Plot-The book is divided into two parts, the “home”, and the “castle”. The ending is part of the “home” section, returning after the castle.
The story is based around the German fairy tale of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) which is told by “Gemma”, an elderly woman, to her three granddaughters. She tells this to the children almost all the time and it is the only bedtime story she ever tells. The times when “Gemma” tells the story are flashbacks and alternate between the present-day story. “Home”- In the present day, Gemma’s Jewish family is living somewhere outside the the city in the USA.After her death, and Rebecca Berlin, the youngest of her three granddaughters (referred to as Becca in the novel) begins to believe that there is some meaning behind the bedtime story that her grandmother told to them hundreds of times. She consults Stan, a good friend and journalist who works for an “alternative” newspaper and uncovers historical facts. She discovers that her grandmother was actually a survivor of the Holocaust who was persecuted for her Polish ethnicity and Jewish belief, and sent to Chelmno extermination camp to be executed.She decides to visit Chelmno and discovers a link with a man by the name of Josef Potocki in Poland.
Becca sets off for Poland to find the identity and the life of her grandmother. The Castle – Josef’s story In Poland, Josef tells his life story and his meeting with Gemma. In the book, his story is entitled under the “castle”. He was originally also a target of the Holocaust for his homosexuality, and became a fugitive, meeting different people, mainly partisans, mainly in Germany. He had heard stories of the torture and the extermination camps and has joined a underground group set out to resuce victims.
This leads him to Chelmno (called Kulmhof by the Germans), where he witnesses the gassing to death of the people in front of him. When he sees the bodies of the people dumped, he notices that a woman with red hair (Gemma) is still alive and faintly breathing. He uses CPR to revive her, which the woman, (who is later called KSIEZNICZKA, which means ‘princess’ in Polish) refers to in her fairy tale as ‘the kiss of life’. KSIEZNICZKA falls in love with Josef’s comrade Aron Mandlestein, called “the Avenger” and when they are almost killed by the Nazis, who are hunting the group down, KSIEZNICZKA marries Aron and takes on he new name Gitl Mandlestein, which she used as her name on her passport to America when Aron died.
‘Home Again’ The final part of the book is simply a conclusion where Becca returns to the U. S. to tell Stan and her family about what she discovered. At the airport, Stan is there to pick her up. He kisses her, and the book ends with his words “We’ll get to happily ever after eventually.
” Style Juxtaposition The story was written to juxtapose the present-day story with the fairy tale that Gemma tells them.In the book, every odd chapter (except for within the Castle) is a flashback to Becca’s childhood in which Gemma tells her story to her grandchildren. Setting at Chelmno Unlike most stories of the Holocaust, Briar Rose does not focus on the genocide of the Jewsspecifically but focuses more on that of the Poles.
Most stories emphasise on the suffering of Jews, and in turn, the Polish have generally been forgotten. Despite the family in the story being Jewish, Yolen intentionally focused on the extermination camp in the Polish town ofChelmno aside from the more well-known ones of Auschwitz and Treblinka.