CODE NAME SAPPHIRE by Pam Jenoff
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHER: Park Row
RELEASE DATE: February 7, 2023
A woman must rescue her cousin’s family from a train bound for Auschwitz in this riveting tale of bravery and resistance during World War II
1942. Hannah Martel has narrowly escaped Nazi Germany after her fiancé was killed in a pogrom. When her ship bound for America is turned away at port, she has nowhere to go but to her cousin Lily, who lives with her family in Brussels. Fearful for her life, Hannah is desperate to get out of occupied Europe. But with no safe way to leave, she must return to the dangerous underground work she thought she had left behind.
Seeking help, Hannah joins the Sapphire Line, a secret resistance network led by a mysterious woman named Micheline and her enigmatic brother Matteo. But when a grave mistake causes Lily’s family to be arrested and slated for deportation to Auschwitz, Hannah finds herself torn between her loyalties. How much is Hannah willing to sacrifice to save the people she loves? Inspired by incredible true stories of courage and sacrifice, Code Name Sapphire is a powerful novel about love, family and the unshakable resilience of women in even the hardest of times.
“We’re at war. We’re all involved whether we like it or not.”
One of the reasons I continue to read historical fiction set around the horrific events of World War 2 and the Holocaust is because of the heroes – ordinary people like you and me – who rose to the occasion and stood in the gap for the victims of hate & injustice. They weren’t perfect people or superhuman; they simply chose not to look away while evil ran rampant. They smuggled ration cards, medication, food, messages and people to safety, at great personal risk – and often great personal cost. They inspire me to stand in the gap, too, and that’s why I love reading stories like Code Name Sapphire by Pam Jenoff.
The spotlight in this novel shifts between three women (clearly labeled so you’re never confused) – Micheline, Hannah, and Lily. These three young women bear the scars of life from before the war years and certainly because of them. Each one has her own strengths and weaknesses, and each one has her part to play in the drama that unfolds on these pages: Micheline, the head of the Sapphire Line resistance network (which the author modeled after actual underground networks that existed at this time). Hannah, an artist turned underground political cartoonist, then refugee, and then member of the Sapphire Line. And Lily, a wife and mother and cousin who unwittingly becomes a major player in the story. I appreciated how the author gave them each moments of courageous strength as well as moments of flawed weakness, thereby keeping them from becoming one-dimensional caricatures. The complexities of their individual relationships with the one person who ties all three of them together add to these layers and emphasize the fact, again, that Micheline, Hannah, and Lily could be people just like each of us – with complicated emotions and mixed experiences that shape our behavior.
“You can’t keep your head down and hope they won’t come for you. Sooner or later they will come for everybody.”
I have not spent much time (if any, to my recollection) on the Belgian resistance front of World War 2 until reading Code Name Sapphire, and I am grateful (and smarter) for now having done so. The underground efforts here in Belgium were orchestrated by men and women who may be more quietly represented in the history books but just as bravely kept the evil of the Nazis at bay as long as they could – and saved many Allied soldiers downed behind enemy lines… and over 100 passengers on a train bound for Auschwitz.
Bottom Line: Pam Jenoff’s books always captivate me with the heart-tugging stories of ordinary people who become extraordinary heroes and make me a smarter human at the same time. Code Name Sapphire is no exception. Despite the emotional topics at hand, Jenoff manages to prevent the book from being hopelessly heavy and infuses her characters with intriguing and complex layers that we can all relate to on one level or another. This is another book for the keeper shelf, another story I will recommend to other readers so that we can avoid repeating the evil of the past but also so that we can dare to replicate the courage that took action against it.
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4.5 stars / loved it!
Reviewer’s Note: Readers of this blog may want to be aware that there is implication of intimate activity in this story but it is tastefully done and not explicitly described.
Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers The Lost Girls of Paris and The Orphan’s Tale. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master’s degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff’s novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia, where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.
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