My Real Name Is Hanna

Written by Tara Lynn Masih
Review by Arleigh Ordoyne

Teenaged Hanna Slivka narrates an unforgettable tale of loss and survival in this young adult story of the Holocaust set in Ukraine. Hanna’s parents and her younger siblings make a stable living in their small community—conforming to the current government regulations as they sway from Polish Republic to Soviet. As the war escalates, the Slivka family suffers through reduced rations and abuse to the threat of labor camps and death. At first hiding in the woods, they find they must further retreat to underground caves, which are inhospitable, yet offer sanctuary. There they suffer for many months without comforts, proper food, or news from the outside world, waiting for the day they can ascend from the darkness of the caves—and into humanity.

Although Hanna and her family are fictional characters, their plight is based on a true story. A 2012 documentary titled No Place on Earth recounts the experiences of three Jewish families who survived the Holocaust by living in the Verteba and Priest’s Grotto caves southwest of Kiev. Ukrainian Jews had a slim chance of survival, and no Jewish families went untouched—except those in the Priest’s Grotto caves.

Masih’s telling manages to bring together a gripping, coming-of-age narrative with an impeccably researched setting. The precarious political and social issues of Ukraine and its surrounding areas are interwoven, as are historical events such as Stalin’s Red Famine and Ukrainian Nazi collaboration. With the continuing surfeit of WWII fiction, it is refreshing to find an original voice that delivers such a harrowing, yet inspiring message for young readers. Hanna’s veracity and indelible spirit honor the subject and the people exhibited by the author in this highly readable, affecting novel.