I found that the author had done her research meticulously, not only concerning the personal story of Helen Stein, but also the background of political events in Europe. Her treatment of the characters in the story was admirable, they came to life and grabbed the sympathy of the reader. Although the book is about such dark subject matter, in fact I cannot imagine any subject matter being more so, it is not a depressing read. The love the characters shared, the human kindnesses and the resilience of the human spirit even in the darkest of times, shone through. This is historical fiction at its best and I recommend it highly.
There are occasional books that we find that can examine a piece of history with the sort of overarching power that will make a person stop and reevaluate their own life. This is just one such book, and it does an incredible job of focusing on and detailing a piece of history that is shameful and terrifying. There are moments that are uncomfortable and make us cringe and feel terrible for Helen, but if there weren’t moments like that then the book wouldn’t be doing what it set out to do.
I love this book, and everything else by Paulette, and I can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve next. Highly recommended for anyone interested in examining and learning about history.
Paulette Mahurin does gives a great narration of hope and defeat, through the eyes of a Holocaust survivor. Helen’s best childhood friend, a homosexual German, his own faith theetering due to his sexual orientation, joins the SS to save himself and to help Helen and her brother escape and hide in the country. But the tale unfolds from terrible to worse.
The story, though labeled fiction, feels like true memories of a Holocaust victim. Though difficult to read and comprehend the darkness of that time, it soars with determination of survival, and tiny acts of kindness, which give hope for humanity.
There are moments of lightness in the book, which include brief moments of love and laughter as the human spirit struggles to deal with impossible horror. The characters are wonderfully vivid and there is a great sense of realism throughout the book. Max is a welcome addition to the story and provides all of us with the image of how we would have liked to behave in similar circumstances but the reality was far more complex.
I loved this book and feel it would make great reading for every young person at school, in the same way Ann Frank’s Diary has helped children connect with such an important part of history. Reading this book may help future generations understand the past and not repeat the same mistakes.
The power of this book comes from not only the fact that Helen’s family is very relatable, but also through her ability to find beauty in even the most horrific of situations. Through beautiful prose, Paulette Mahurin describes the way Helen has a new appreciation for the beautiful colours of light, or the smell of soup after hiding in a farmhouse cellar for several years. Even amongst the horrors of Auschwitz, Helen finds lasting friendship and many examples of human goodness.
But for all the goodness Helen is able to find, The Seven Year Dress is a harrowing read. It is also a beautiful and important one that is not to be missed.
The Seven Year Dress
I had previously read The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin. It was one of those books that stuck with you. I can say the same for her newest work, The Seven Year Dress. I bought the Kindle version, and even though I had several library books on my Kindle application that were due back I read The Seven Year Dress instead because after I read a couple of chapters I couldn’t put it down.
The main character, Helen Stein, is painted skillfully with delicate brush strokes in the beginning. They become appropriately harsher as we get into her plight of being in hiding and then in a concentration camp. I don’t think this is a spoiler as the title and picture on the cover gives that bit away.
Even though this is a fictional account, we are told in the Forward that there was a real Helen Stein and that she shared her story. For me that made it even more worth the read. There are so many books on the Holocaust. This one truly stands out. Mahuran is a brilliant storyteller and has a knack for capturing the emotions of her characters.
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