I never read other reviews before I read a book. When I’m done I will usually scan through others thoughts about the book. If I feel that the book is justly covered by different but fair views I many times don’t bother to post a review. I was saddened to see that “holocaust deniers” and black hearts had to add their two cents here.
The beginning of the book felt a little stilted to me because I kept thinking that such a young child wouldn’t have such complex thoughts. From two years old, to thirteen years old, I felt like I was walking a bit of an uneven path. By the end of the book I realized that it was brilliant way to set up a story in a time period where everything was unexpected and devastating. You will be glad that you kept reading if the first bit makes you think you want to put the book down. It is written as an old woman telling her life story to another woman. Remember that while reading this book.
It starts just as WWI has ended. Riveting is the only word that comes to mind when I think of The Seven Year Dress. The author’s writing assumes that you have some basic knowledge and understanding of the time period. Nazi’s Bad…. Hitler’s Evil….The Holocaust DID happen. If you skip the foreword and Prologue your doing yourself a disservice. We are taken on a journey as Helen comes of age in a world in complete chaos. I felt that it was very realistic in the way Helen hears bits and pieces of Hitler’s propaganda and the changes occurring in the society around her. I was frustrated for her that she is aware of changes but denies that the world was really changing in such a fundamental way. She of course is a child, so she is protected by her family. We watch as her friendship with a neighbor boy named Max; flourishes, then withers, and possibly is the only reason she survived. She being Jewish and the reason for the disintegration of the German race, Max is a blonde hair blue eyed boy that decides to hide in plain sight. As a homosexual he fears the same things as Helen; going to a “work camp” or being killed by being deemed “undesirable.” Joining the Nazi party as a young boy he moves up in the ranks and is able to keep Helen and her brother one step ahead of the murdering Gestapo.
Chapter Ten the rythm of the book changes. This is about 1/3 through the book. I’m dyslexic so it may just be the “uneven” feeling of the way the story felt for me. I suppose this may be the part that some felt was boring? It hits highlight conversations and discoveries over 19 years. You can’t have the rest of the story without this understanding of the characters. At this point Helen is a 19 year old woman who has had one boyfriend and her body wants something. She doesn’t understand what at this point.
This is the where you really have to remember your listening to an old lady tell her young friend of her life. Unfortunately my Grandmother told me about her sex life, so I know it happens that this generation might share this part of her finding herself. Part of her story was that she struggled in wanting physical closeness and intimacy in a time that there really wasn’t any. Yes, I thought masturbating probably came up maybe once too often but it did not detract from the story. She and her brother Ben where locked in a basement for years. Never going outside.
They had a peep hole that they watched the world change without them. They both struggled mentally. Helen desperately waited for wildlife to wander by. ***I have to add that in 1938 Romania had over 4 thousand bears spread over almost 4 million acres. Romania is about 500 miles from Germany, give or take, and bears can travel from 125 to 3 thousand miles looking for food, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Helen saw a bear. For the ignorant reviewer that had an issue with this. : P
Living in the basement they didn’t know they were lucky and that things could be much much worse. They went from baked goodies at home (*baking has been around for thousands of years, to the ignorant person again), to canned vegetables and soup in the basement. *Fun fact (*for you again) cans were sealed using lead back in the 1930’s. When they were dropped or dented some led could leak into the food. Probably adding to why the normal life expectancy was in the 60’s then. Sans Nazi’s.
Ben and Helen were ultimately discovered and Helen finds herself alone in a concentration camp. A woman a bit older than Helen befriended her as she enters the camp in shock. This friendship is the one bit of kindness that gives her hope throughout her time in the camp. Unfortunately she was “lucky” that she had a skill that could be used by the Nazi’s. This put her in a position with a bit more safety from death, however it also put her under the thumb of an SS officer that raped her. Oddly enough this part reads very disconnected. I mean, Helen shuts down. These scenes are not written violently but more….. I’m not sure. I am normally bothered by rape scenes. In this case I felt more disgusted by the man than the act, if that makes sense.
To me it felt as though there are three distinct sections; growing up, hiding in a hole, and life in the camp. As a whole I was so taken with the story. I was very happy to see that the main character was not written as a hero. While in the basement Helen has moments when I wanted to smack her. She behaves like a brat. She screams and yells and carries on not caring about the consequences or anyone other than herself. These moments pass but I was happy to have moments when I didn’t love the main character. It made it feel more authentic.
Writing: I thought it was very well written. Because I’m dyslexic my brain auto corrects badly written sentences and grammar and then I end up with a headache. Not with this book. SOOOO happy to see that!! Art in any form should make you feel something. The writing was immensely well done in that I felt a wide range of emotion. This book made me think. It made me sad, and mad, and just a little happy in moments.
Sexual Content: Yes there is too much masturbating, but the level of discomfort you feel when reading these parts really depends on how comfortable you are with the subject. For me…. not a big deal. It really showed that somethings are not erased when the world ends. Everyone still has feelings, there will still be sexual yearnings, and there is always some tiny thing you can do to create hope. That is what I got out of this story. The rape could upset some, so just be aware it starts at the beginning of chapter 29 and the man dies at the beginning of chapter 30. Ain’t karma a bytch.
Violence: I had a hard time answering how much. I believe that speaks to how masterfully Helen’s shock and disbelief was written. While Helen witnessed men and women being gunned down she mentally shuts off. You can actually feel it. The writer had to include violence because it is such a big part of the motivations of the characters. However it was not in your face, blood, gore, and focused on the act and moment. More how it appears in the bigger picture.
This is not a grocery store impulse item. It is not a paperback you balance your kitchen table with. This is the kind of book you buy in hardcover binding, put in your library, and treat it with respect. I read it on my Kindle through Amazon Unlimited so I didn’t pay for it. I will be purchasing it to put on my bookshelf of keepers.
Darby’s been rescued and the mammory tumor removed. She’s a happy girl now in her new home.