Marie Sontag's "Rising Hope" reviewed by academic journal "The Polish Review"

From The Polish Review, Vol. 61, No. 1, 2016. Copyright 2016 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Reprinted with permission.

rh_fcMarie Sontag, Rising Hope Book I: Warsaw Rising Trilogy (Mechanicsburg, PA: Sunbury Press, 2015), 220 pp. ISBN 97816220065563.

Polish and Polish American themes in English- language fiction for young readers are rare indeed. A few titles for children were published during the 1980s by Anne Pellowski, and in the early 2000s Karen Cushman came out with her novel Rodzina about a Polish preteen traveling west on an orphan train. Titles for adolescents have been just as rare. Two notable novels for young adults include Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s A Coalminer’s Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska (2000), a historical narrative set in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, and Maja Wojciechowska’s brilliant fictionalized memoir of World War II, Till the Break of Day (1972). With the publication of Rising Hope, Marie Sontag joins this small group of writers focused on young readers. Sontag, just like Wojciechowska, chooses World War II as the background of her novel, but unlike Wojciechowska, she does so without the advantage of personal experience. Sontag’s interest in Polish history might have been generated by her family background. In the novel’s dedication, she identifies her paternal grandfather’s name as Reikowski.

Rising Hope is the first volume in Sontag’s ambitious plan for a trilogy of historical novels for young adults, novels set in Poland during the most turbulent times of recent Polish history. Her initial volume covers the five years of German occupation beginning with September 1939 and ending with the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and the methodical destruction of the city by the Germans after the fall of the uprising. Sontag plans the second volume to document the years of Soviet domination of Poland between 1944 and 1989, and the final volume will carry her characters to the present time. It is probably fair to say that Marie Sontag, who describes herself as an educator, attempts to accomplish several didactic goals in her fiction. Thus, Rising Hope informs her young readers about the tragic realities of life in Warsaw during the German occupation and extols the bravery of Polish resistance fighters, especially the very young, presenting their deep patriotism and their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of Poland. At the same time, Sontag finds effective techniques to introduce her readers to Polish music and literature and the more distant past. So every now and then, her young characters may casually discuss the accomplishments of Frederic Chopin, or they may study for their clandestine lessons devoted to Polish poets such as Słowacki or Krasiński or to great freedom fighters such as Kościuszko and Kiliński. Sontag reinforces such miniature in- text lectures with a glossary, which identifies all historical figures and provides brief biographies and images.

While constructing the novel’s plot, Sontag effectively introduces fictional characters into historical sabotage actions carried out by some of the most famous Home Army fighters: Zośka, Rudy, Moro, and several others. Sontag focuses particularly on the role Polish scouts played in the struggle against the German occupation, both during the Warsaw Uprising and during the months leading to its outbreak. Her novel pays homage to the youngest fighters, who sacrificed their lives for Polish freedom. She movingly describes the death of seven- year- old Henio Dąbrowski, who works as a newspaper boy distributing copies of an illegal Polish newspaper, Informational Bulletin. Tragically, Henio becomes an object of interest to a couple of German policemen patrolling the streets of Warsaw. One of them “pointed his gun at Henio’s back. As if in slow motion, Tadzio [Henio’s older brother and the novel’s protagonist] saw the German pull the trigger. Blam! Only one shot. Henio’s arms flew up. His fine light- brown hair lifted in the breeze as his face contorted in pain. Henio’s legs went out under him. Women across the street screamed. The two policemen laughed, and then walked away” (138).

This tragic episode is one of a whole string of events that contribute to the growth of Tadzio Dąbrowski. In this classic Bildungsroman, Sontag allows her readers to follow Tadzio’s education and maturation process. The war deprives him of all parental support. His father leaves on a mysterious mission, and his mother and a trusted housekeeper are both arrested by the Germans and, after months of interrogations in the infamous Pawiak prison, are sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women. At thirteen, when the novel begins, Tadzio finds support from the leaders of his scout troop but refuses to engage in the scout actions against the occupiers. The readers witness his growth into a young patriot and a Home Army soldier.

To help her readers become familiar with both fictional and historical characters, Sontag lists them all in the glossary. This is an excellent idea, since some of the difficult Polish names may become confusing to English- speaking readers. However, one decision that the author makes in this regard is questionable. Her useful glossary offers her readers, in addition to brief biographies, photographic images of all characters: both historical figures and the fictional characters. So a question arises regarding whose pictures are used to illustrate fictional characters. If these period photographs depict some nameless victims of German terror, fictionalizing their lives and making up their names is disturbing. It victimizes them yet again. In future printings of Rising Hope, the author should consider deleting the photographs used for fictional characters and also replacing the map of Ukraine printed twice at the beginning and the end of the book with a historical map of Poland that reflects its pre- 1939 borders. A historical map of Poland would be very helpful for Sontag’s young readers.

Writing historical novels is not easy. The difficulty lies not in securing information about historical events, which are usually well documented, but in getting the seemingly insignificant details of everyday life right. Except for a couple of errors, such as having Polish peasants drive pickup trucks during the German occupation or not realizing that a couple of German Jewish boys who spoke only German and Yiddish would have linguistic difficulty in communicating with Polish children, Sontag is very successful in creating a picture of Warsaw during World War II. Rising Hope teaches its readers about living conditions in occupied Warsaw and presents the whole spectrum of societal attitudes toward the occupiers. The novel is populated not only by courageous freedom fighters but also by ruthless collaborators and informers who are willing to sell their compatriots to the enemy, knowing full well that they are sending others to their deaths just to gain financial advantages. The novel’s list of minor characters includes also Poles willing to risk their lives to save Jews, Jews who serve as soldiers in the Polish Home Army battalions, sadistic German soldiers, and some good Germans whose help saves Polish lives. Marie Sontag’s novel is an important addition to young adult literature in English.

Grazyna J. Kozaczka

Cazenovia College

Warsaw uprising during WW2 subject of Marie Sontag YA novel "Rising Hope"

WARSAW, PolandSunbury Press has released Rising Hope, Marie Sontag’s historical YA novel, the first of theWarsaw Rising trilogy.

About the Book:
rh_fcLooking back, eighteen-year-old Tadzio realized that it all began when his father walked out on him September 8, 1939. That same day, his Scoutmaster challenged Tadzio and his friends to give their all for Poland. At first, thirteen-year-old Tadzio said no. Now, five years later, the Germans still occupied Poland. But at least Tadzio rose to the challenge. And he still had hope. This is how it began.

“Rising Hope is an homage to all Polish teenagers who fought the German evil so bravely during WWII. A must read.”

— Julian Kulski Author of The Color of Courage, 2014. Kulski, son of the Polish mayor of Warsaw, was ten when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and twelve when he joined Warsaw’s fight against the Germans.

“With a unique set of characters, Sontag’s book transfers readers into the atmosphere and situation in Poland during 1939-1945. It is written with passion for the events and reveals the author’s respect and compassion for the people and the disastrous events that transpired.”

— Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm Author of Kaia, Heroine of the 1944 Warsaw Rising.

Excerpt:
Palmiry, Poland – September 8, 1939

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD TADZIO STOOD IN THE FRONT HALLWAY of the family’s summerhouse and watched his father walk out the door. “Why do you have to leave now, Father?” he shouted at him. “We need you. The war…” he broke off.

Tadzio’s father turned around. “I’m sorry I haven’t spent much time with you this past year. Until today, I never really understood how important your Scouting activities were. Now I need to leave on a special business trip, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”

Tadzio looked down and stared at a spot on the hardwood floor where the late morning sun leaked in through the open doorway.

“I can’t give you any details.” His father reached out and lifted Tadzio’s chin. “When I get back I’ll explain everything.” Catching Tadzio by surprise, his father pulled him into a close embrace. “I love you.” He then turned and left.

Tadzio longed to yell, “Of course you’re leaving. That’s what you always do. Why should today be any different?” He also wished he could run after his father, wrap his arms around his waist and shout, “No, don’t go Poppa. Don’t leave now, don’t ever leave us again!” Instead, Tadzio just stood with his hands at his sides and said nothing.

An hour earlier, Tadzio’s sixteen-year-old patrol leader, Andrzej, had driven Tadzio’s Scoutmaster and two other boys from Tadzio’s Scout troop to their family’s summer home. Without any explanation, Tadzio’s father and the Scoutmaster, Professor Handelsman, went into his father’s library where they spoke in hushed tones for almost thirty minutes. Tadzio quickly learned that the two Scouts who arrived with Andrzej and the professor had no idea why they were there, except that Professor Handelsman asked them to come.

Now the professor joined Tadzio’s family out on the white-columned porch as the family watched their father leave. Tadzio’s mother held little four-year-old Henio’s hand. Tadzio’s older sister, Magdalena, sniffled and wiped her tears with her embroidered handkerchief.

Tadzio’s father walked across the yard and into the barn. He returned a moment later dragging two heavy suitcases. After hoisting them into the back seat of Andrzej’s black Fiat 518, he slid in next to the patrol leader on the passenger’s side. Andrzej revved the car’s engine, throwing out the heady, nauseous stench of petrol. Seconds later he pulled out of the gravel driveway and onto the forest-lined road.

“Andrzej will return in about an hour,” the professor explained. “Tadzio and Magdalena, I’d like you and the other Scouts to meet me in the library when he returns. I will tell you what you need to know at that time.”

Tadzio opened his mouth, about to say, “Tell us now,” but the professor’s pressed lips kept Tadzio silent. As he usually did when frustrated or depressed, Tadzio went to the ebony Böesendorfer grand piano in the far corner of the parlor and practiced his scherzo. The other Scouts all went their separate ways until Andrzej returned from his mysterious errand.

Sontag_Dagger11About the Author
Dr. Marie Sontag taught middle school for over 15 years. She has a BA in Social Science, and an MA and PhD in Education. www.mariesontag.com

Rising Hope
Authored by Marie Sontag
List Price: $16.95
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
228 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620065563
ISBN-10: 1620065568
BISAC: Juvenile Fiction / Historical / Holocaust

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Rising-Hope-978162006556…