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Friday, June 26, 2020

Based-On-a-True-Story Historical Novel Heartbreaking and Authentic

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For farm girl Stefania "Fusia" Podgórska, nothing is as exciting as life in the city of Przemysl, Poland.  Delighted to be free of pigsty stink and the endless clucking of chickens, the 13-year-old takes a job in a grocery store owned by the Diamants, a kind Jewish family.  Four years later, she has become like a daughter to them.  Unbeknownst to Mr. and Mrs. Diamant, the 17-year-old, who is Catholic, is secretly engaged to their son, Izio.  Although she hides the secret from her adopted family, there is nothing she wouldn't do for the Diamants.  

When Poland is invaded by the German Army, Przemysl is not spared.  Jews are being rounded up and shipped off to places unknown.  As residents disappear, the city becomes a ghost town.  Fusia is left on her own, the only person who can care for Helena, her 6-year-old sister.  Then, comes a knock on her apartment door.  Max Diamant, Izio's older brother, has jumped from a death camp train.  He begs Fusia to hide him from the Nazis.  Determined to save her friend, she complies.  It's not long before word spreads and Fusia finds herself sheltering not just Max, but twelve other Jews in the small house she's now renting.  While she does everything she can to feed and protect her charges, her situation is becoming increasingly desperate.  

Another knock on Fusia's door changes things once again.  This time, it's two Nazi officers requisitioning her house.  Unable to refuse their demands, the terrified young woman begins a tense tightrope walk to keep her Nazi house "guests" distracted, her Jewish refugees hidden, and her precocious little sister from running her mouth and dooming them all.  

I've read all but one of Sharon Cameron's unique, imaginative YA novels, so I was shocked when I learned her newest was historical fiction in the most traditional sense.  The Light in Hidden Places is based on the wartime experiences of Stefania Podgórska, who really did hide more than a dozen Jews in the same home where Nazi officers lived.  It's an extraordinary story of courage, daring, and compassion.  While Fusia's dangerous efforts to defy the Nazis are not anything that WWII fiction lovers haven't read about before, they still make for a suspenseful, awe-inspiring story.  In Cameron's capable hands, the reader can really feel the characters' terror as their situation grows more and more desperate.  Thanks to her careful depictions of them, Cameron's story people stand out as not just empathetic, but also human and authentic.  It's impossible not to root for their survival.  The author's note at the end of the novel explains the true fates of the people in the story, which makes the tale that much more real.  Cameron is a writer I've long admired and The Light in Hidden Places just solidifies her place as a favorite.  I loved this novel as much as I have her others.  I'll always be on the lookout for more from her.

To learn more about Stefania, visit The Stefi Foundation.  A 1996 TV movie called Hidden in Silence also tells her story.  In addition, an interview with Helena Podgórska can be viewed on Sharon Cameron's website. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Diary of Anne Frank and other World War II/Holocaust novels)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, scenes of peril, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Light in Hidden Places from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. This one sounds really interesting! I feel like I've seen it around, but the synopsis didn't look familiar. I'm happy you enjoyed this one!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

  2. Those books based on real people always seem to have a big impact. I had never heard of this woman before, but wow! It's incredible what she did

  3. This seems like such an intense read! I got to tour some of the former camps in Poland a few years ago. Nothing can prepare you for the feelings you experience as you visit those places.

  4. This is one of my favorite WWII stories. I haven't read the book yet, but I love the movie they made about Fusia and the Jews she hid. :D

  5. This one sounds really good. I'm still kind of burned out on WWII fiction, having read so many of them in the last 18 months, so I'm not going to jump on this one immediately. But it will go on my TBR, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  6. It is intense, an amazing true story, and really well written. I agree on the A!

  7. Oh, this sounds so good and I love that it's based on a real story! Adding it to the TBR list.

  8. This sounds really good - I haven’t heard of it before but it’s definitely going on my TBR! Great review 💛


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