By – September 25, 2023

Teenage sis­ters Astra and Fred­erieke are liv­ing on the edge of dis­as­ter as life in their beloved Czer­nowitz, Roma­nia — which has always been filled with fam­i­ly, friends, school, dance class­es, and ordi­nary com­pli­ca­tions — begins to implode in the pre – World War II era. Every­thing that’s impor­tant to them seems to be van­ish­ing. With the Nazis and Sovi­ets tak­ing over, moments of safe­ty and san­i­ty become increas­ing­ly rare. Cor­rup­tion, evil, good­ness, and frailty all appear through­out the book; the sto­ry moves along at a dizzy­ing pace. Peo­ple van­ish, unlike­ly sav­iors show up, and dai­ly des­per­ate deci­sions have to be made.

Each page of this extra­or­di­nary Holo­caust sto­ry teems with nerve-tin­gling, edge-of-your-seat anx­i­ety. Based on the life of the author’s own grand­moth­er, the book con­tin­ues to gain momen­tum, pick­ing up tragedies and loss­es as it goes on. The sis­ters’ food becomes scarce, and friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers keep dis­ap­pear­ing at an alarm­ing rate. Their rou­tines are ten­u­ous at best, and hor­ri­fy­ing rumors abound.

The Blood Years is a riv­et­ing addi­tion to the Holo­caust-lit­er­a­ture canon that will keep the read­er inter­est­ed as the fam­i­ly saga unfolds.

Award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and free­lance writer, Helen Weiss Pin­cus, has taught mem­oir writ­ing and cre­ative writ­ing through­out the NY Metro area to senior cit­i­zens and high school stu­dents. Her work has been pub­lished in The New York Times, The Record, The Jew­ish Stan­dard, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She recent­ly added Bub­by” to her job description.

Discussion Questions

In the first chap­ter, Rieke’s old­er sis­ter, Astra, promis­es her that she’ll nev­er fall in love. After all, love didn’t work out so well for their wom­an­iz­ing father and their with­drawn moth­er. The two girls were left to take care of each oth­er with the help of their beloved grand­fa­ther. Rieke cher­ish­es the spe­cial rela­tion­ship she has with her beau­ti­ful but mer­cu­r­ial sis­ter, and doesn’t want to share her. But as Nazi influ­ence spreads over their Roman­ian home, Astra does fall in love, set­ting off a touch­ing com­ing-of-age story.

Arnold’s The Blood Years shines in par­tic­u­lar in its mov­ing and often painful por­tray­al of sis­ter­hood. Rieke grows up in the shad­ow of her sis­ter; and both the fierce love she feels for Astra, and the heart­break Rieke feels at her sister’s betray­als, are poignant in their com­plex­i­ty. Arnold bril­liant­ly por­trays these con­flict­ing feel­ings, which cap­ture the nuances of fam­i­ly and adolescence.

The nov­el is also fas­ci­nat­ing and instruc­tive in its depic­tion of the Sec­ond World War and the Holo­caust. It cen­ters the then-Roman­ian city of Czer­nowitz, a part of Europe that is not often seen in Holo­caust nar­ra­tives. Based on the expe­ri­ences of the author’s grand­moth­er, The Blood Years is at once a well-researched sto­ry of his­to­ry and an art­ful­ly writ­ten young adult novel.