The Song of the Stork
Yael is a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl running from the Germans in Eastern Europe during WWII. She seeks shelter at the farm of the so-called village idiot, Aleksei. He is mute, but he makes it clear enough that he doesn’t want her there. Nevertheless, she slowly wins his trust, and a fascinating relationship develops between them. The Germans ultimately find Yael’s hiding place, and she is forced to move on, eventually joining a Jewish partisan group.
The Song of the Stork has the simple, savage beauty of a fairy tale without the black-and-white morality. It is a tale of survival and hope amidst the bleak reality of war. Collishaw avoids graphic descriptions of violence and focuses on the feelings of fear and anger in those forced to witness and endure that violence. The reader feels Yael’s hunger and cold along with her, rooting for her as she reaches out for help, not knowing if the strangers she encounters will shelter her or turn her over to the Nazis. Yael is a three-dimensional character, a quiet, imaginative girl who takes moments of beauty wherever she finds them. Collishaw’s writing is at its best when depicting Yael’s relationship with Aleksei, an impressive achievement when one considers that their relationship develops almost entirely without words.
This is a literary novel, and few loose ends are tied up at the end. There is closure for one subplot, but I found it rushed and unconvincing. Characters appear and disappear, especially during the second half of the novel. This is undoubtedly realistic for wartime, but I mourned the loss of people Yael cared about whom she never heard from again. Recommended.