By – February 27, 2018

This nov­el draws read­ers into the after­math of the Holo­caust, viewed through the eyes of Ger­ta, a six­teen-year-old Ger­man Jew­ish girl who has lost every­thing but her Papa’s beloved vio­la. The sto­ry begins with the lib­er­a­tion of Bergen-Belsen, where she is suf­fer­ing from typhus and sur­round­ed by death. What comes next is less about the res­cue and recov­ery of her phys­i­cal being, and more about the restora­tion of her per­son­hood as she con­fronts the stag­ger­ing loss of her home, her fam­i­ly, her future, and her under­stand­ing of who she is in a world for­ev­er changed. Music is the thread that weaves through­out this nar­ra­tive, link­ing Ger­ta to her father and her past, sav­ing her as she is sent from camp to camp, and ulti­mate­ly giv­ing her life mean­ing as she nav­i­gates through her pain and grief toward a new beginning.

Gerta’s father has shield­ed her from her Jew­ish iden­ti­ty in an effort to keep her safe, chang­ing the fam­i­ly name to Richter from Rauch, and obtain­ing papers declar­ing their Aryan puri­ty. Ger­ta believes it was Maria, an opera singer pos­ing as her step­moth­er, who betrayed them, and her lim­it­ed knowl­edge of the tenets and tra­di­tions of Judaism makes her intern­ment even more dis­con­cert­ing and trau­mat­ic. The end of the war marks the tran­si­tion of Bergen-Belsen to a dis­placed per­sons camp, and the begin­ning of relearn­ing what it means to eat and sleep enough, dress nor­mal­ly, talk freely, and devel­op rela­tion­ships. Ger­ta finds some solace play­ing vio­la in the new­ly formed camp musi­cal soci­ety, but she is less inclined to become attached to any­thing or any­one. While many sur­vivors elect to anchor their new lives by quick­ly get­ting mar­ried, Ger­ta rebuffs the earnest advances of a young man named Lev in favor of a vision of her future in music. Lev is strug­gling to revive the Jew­ish iden­ti­ty that used to define him, an iden­ti­ty that Ger­ta doesn’t share. Ulti­mate­ly, this is also a love sto­ry, and togeth­er these two find the will to choose a new path.

Pow­er­ful­ly writ­ten, with illus­tra­tions by the author, this is a book that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a per­son when so much of what defined you is gone forever.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 13 and up.

Posts by Vesper

Teri Mark­son has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 18 years. She is cur­rent­ly the act­ing senior librar­i­an at the Val­ley Plaza Branch Library in North Hol­ly­wood, CA.

Discussion Questions

What the Night Sings by Ves­per Stam­per is an evoca­tive and incred­i­bly mov­ing nov­el set in the pur­ga­to­ry of a dis­placed per­sons camp. The war has end­ed, and teenage Gre­ta has been lib­er­at­ed from a con­cen­tra­tion camp, ema­ci­at­ed and bereft. Stripped of fam­i­ly and human­i­ty, she must now con­front the ques­tion: where to go from here? In this lim­bo state, she meets a fel­low sur­vivor, Lev, whose com­pas­sion and faith dares her to hope, and allows her to enter­tain the pos­si­bil­i­ty of free­dom in Pales­tine. Through lush, affect­ing prose and haunt­ing sepia-toned illus­tra­tions, Stam­per deliv­ers a dis­tinct and exquis­ite­ly woven nar­ra­tive that blends a cel­e­brat­ed musi­cal past, when Gre­ta was a promis­ing young singer liv­ing with her vio­list father in native Ger­many, with the liv­ing night­mares of Bergen-Belsen, and the uncer­tain prospects of a future. This com­pelling, thought­ful­ly ren­dered sto­ry of pas­sion and love, art, and iden­ti­ty, dark­ness and light is a stand­out debut, guar­an­teed to stir and stay with read­ers young and old.