“Clothes show who you are, or who you want to be.”
Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.
Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?
Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.
The Red Ribbon is an affecting story of friendship and survival that shows a piece of Auschwitz history.
“The place where everyone arrives, and nobody leaves.”
The story introduced Ella, a fourteen year old Jew. She was on her way home from school when she was taken from the streets by police and sent to Birchwood, or most popularly known in history as Birkenau-Auschwitz. She was stripped of her clothes and other belongings, in exchange of the identical stripey garments for prisoners which is more like a sack than a clothing. Prisoners like Ella are just numbers in a striped uniform. They don’t have identity, their lives doesn’t matter. They are not humans to their oppressor.
When Ella arrived at Upper Tailoring Studio to find work, she had to fake her age as sixteen. Otherwise she’ll be consider as useless and eventually end up dead. There she met Rose, a young girl who came from a wealthy family but for some reason end up in the same situation like her. Ella and Rose soon become friends. They found an ally in each other, something to treasure during the war in a place like a concentration camp.
“People weren’t simple, made up of just one characteristic, like pure silk, or pure will. They were woven dram all sorts of threads on complex patterns – tartans and abstracts.”
The book itself is beautiful – with it’s colourful designs and arts related to sewing (pins, buttons, ribbons, scissors and others) that are scattered to the pages. And the story is a treasure – something that everyone should read, not only for the history but also for the sensitive story it delivered.
“It’s only when you’ve been without something that you truly appreciate how wonderful it is.”
In The Red Ribbon, Lucy Adlington sticthed together history and fiction, creating a powerful story for readers to experience.
Ella and Rose are in the same situations. But they see and take things differently. Rose is the optimistic one, while Ella is more realistic. Given their situations, I admire Ella’s survival attitude. In a place like Birchwood, you need to be tough and smart to survive, and hope that your humanity stays intact even after all the horrifying experiences.
“Cross that bridge when you come to it, or swim the river if you have to.”
Before Birchwood, Ella has a normal and happy life with her grandparents. While at Birchwood she can’t help but remember her old life and family, especially her grandma. Every time she recall her grandmother’s sayings, you’ll feel the love and longings. Even it is not explicitly said, Ella obviously look up to her grandmother. In every dress she make, she thought of her – how her grandma sew clothes and her constant reminder for her words or saying. Those sayings from her grandma not only remind Ella of what to do and what not to do, but also reminds readers of a happier memories that Ella used to have. And to hope that Ella survive the war and that she’ll get back to that happier life she once have.
“If the sun isn’t shining, make the most of rain.”
On the whole, The Red Ribbon is an affecting and enlightening read. A fictional story that feels and read like real events, which makes the hearth-breaking scenes more aching. Just like Rose said in the book, “stories has different way of telling the truth”, and The Red Ribbon is one proof of its validity. Through Ella’s story, Lucy Adlington reminds readers about one of the great horrors of the past. An important and eye-opening read especially for the younger generations. Whether you’re a target audience of this book of not, I suggest you pick this one up.
* This review is based on a copy received from the publisher, Bonnier Publishing via Midas Public Relations in exchange for my honest opinion about the book.