Book: Victoria's War Author: Catherine A. Hamilton Genre: Historical Fiction Pages: 312 (PDF) Publication Date: June 2020 (UK) My Rating: 5/5 Stars *Disclaimer: I was given a free advanced review copy (e-ARC) of Catherine Hamilton's book 'Victoria's War' in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Kristen at Mindbuck Media and Catherine for this opportunity, and also for providing me with the book cover image.
POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women face the cruelty of the invaders alone. After the unthinkable happens, Victoria is ordered to work in a Nazi sewing factory. When she decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is singled out and sent to work in the brothels, and Victoria is transported in a cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave. GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital, where she’s about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin. (Shortened Synopsis from Goodreads - Link)
Wow, what a book. The story begins with Victoria, a Catholic Polish girl, hearing on the radio that Poland has just been invaded by the Germans. Shortly after, she finds her life is turned upside down. The SS arrive and murder her sister, leaving Victoria guilt-stricken and left alone with her mother. She's forced to work in a sewing factory and do as the SS ask, or risk being killed. Victoria reluctantly agrees to attend a resistant meeting with her friend, Sylvia, yet here she is captured and forced into slavery. Meanwhile, Etta Tod is forced into sterilisation because of her deafness, as the Nazis considered her inferior in comparison to other people. Etta and Victoria meet once Victoria is sent to be a Polish slave at Etta's family bakery. The two quickly become friends, with Etta sneaking bread and extra rations to Victoria, and they soon begin a secret mission to help more Polish slaves.
That's not to say Victoria had it easy - not at all. In the bakery, she's forced to work 14 hours a day and only given one small meal each evening. The baker and his wife and son, beat her regularly and leave her freezing in the attic. The cruel family know that she may die as a result of her actions, but it's of no worry to them, as they know they could easily replace her for another slave. The horrific situations that people had to live through was terrible. The writing was incredible, a wonderful debut novel. It's so well-written and I immediately connected with the characters and their journeys. It felt incredibly realistic and Catherine has clearly researched into WWII and the experiences of Polish slaves. A beautiful story of friendship and love in very difficult times. I immediately fell in love with Etta's character - she's so bold, daring and eager to do what is right. Yet all the characters offered something new, and each carried a message with them. This quickly became one of my favourite historical fiction books, and it really does make you thankful for what you have. After reading so many WWII books from a Jewish perspective, it was interesting to read about the experiences of Polish slaves, as I admit, I didn't have much knowledge about their history. A must-read. My only criticism would be that the ending felt rushed and wasn't entirely clear. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for Catherine's future works! As a trigger warning, as it's set during the war, there is obviously elements of violence, shooting, death, etc. and also abuse, slavery and mentions of rape and suicide. I give this book five out of five stars, as it's incredibly emotional, well-written and beautifully told. Thank you again to the author Catherine Hamilton, and Kristen at Mindbuck Media for this opportunity. If you'd like to find out more about the author, click here. You can find 'Victoria's War' on Amazon and Goodreads. Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with or endorsed by any links in this blog post. I will not receive anything if you buy this book or use the above links. Take care, Sophie x