HIstorical Fiction project

If I Should Die Before I Wake

Annotated Book Review

In the historical fictional novel If I Should Die Before I Wake, by Han Nolan,

16-year-old Hilary (a hater of Jews) is in a coma and dying, and Chana (a Jew) is forced to live in ghettos and the Auschwitz-Birkenau work camp. She must be strong and have faith in order to survive. The suspense- filled novel leaves you feeling the emotions of the characters and was very interesting to read.

Hilary is member if the Aryan Warriors, which is a neo-Nazi group that worships and supports Hitler, and hates Jews. When Hilary is injured in an accident she is brought to a Jewish hospital. She is in a coma but can hear and see some of the things that go on around her. She is very hateful and disrespectful towards the Jews that are taking care of her. Hilary’s mother later comes to see her, but Hilary says it’s all a show. Her mother has brought her bible with her and continues to read passages to her. After a childhood of her mother never being there for her and abandoning her for three days, Hilary doesn’t like her mother, and being an Aryan Warrior, is not religious and doesn’t want to hear the passages from the bible. All she wants is Brad, her boyfriend and a member of the Aryan Warriors. Hilary says he understands her, that they are the same, and erased the empty, chalky feeling she had after her father died. Her mother never liked Brad and blamed him for Hilary’s condition, so when he came to see Hilary her mother tried to keep him from talking to her. But his intensions of visiting her in the Jewish hospital were not just because he was worried about her. There were other warriors there setting off fireworks with the intension of burning down the building. Hilary lies of the bed unconscious, fighting for her life.

While in the coma Hilary keeps spinning in and out of visions where she is a young Jewish girl named Chana. While only 13 years old in the beginning of the novel, Chana is constantly disrespected just because she is a Jew. She is brought to a building where she is forced to scrub a staircase with her own tights. As Hilary’s visions continue, she watches as Chana’s mother has to give Chana’s baby sister Nadia to a young couple of family friends who will take her with them to America in hopes of protection from the horrible things that the Germans are doing. Before leaving, Chana’s bubbe (grandmother) gives the couple a photo album of family pictures, she says that Nadia will need to know. Bubbe has a gift of being able to see what has and what is going to happen to herself, her family, and to strangers. She tells Chana that night that things are going to get a lot worse and that she must always have faith and have faith in God. A while later the family now consisting of Chana, Bubbe, Zayde (grandfather), mama, her brother Jakub, and her 6-year-old sister Anya are forced to live in a ghetto where the living space for the entire family consist of a one room apartment with a tiny kitchen, 2 cots, and a lopsided table. After being losing and being separated from the rest of the family, Chana and Bubbe are moved into 2 different prisons and then the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Chana and the other people are treated horribly and forced to do horrible, laborious jobs. After watching her members of her family and many friends die and suffer, Chana is still fighting for her own life.

Nolan conveyed the historical settings of the novel by describing the different places Chana and her family were sent to and how they suffered. By telling Chana’s story, Nolan described the many things and hardships that the Jews suffered. By telling Hilary’s story Nolan described the point of view from both the Jews and neo-Nazis. Nolan describes everything a Jew in a work camp would go through and how much they suffered and how much they were worked. Nolan tells the story through Chana’s eyes and says “a woman could mark out of the camp with her head held high, her back strong and straight, and a glint in her eye, and return from work that afternoon a destroyed, broken mass of flesh, too far gone to make it much past the gate. (pg. 209) Nolan also describes how the Jews were kicked around and mocked as if they were nothing. “The shout was so loud and it frightened me so, I didn’t hear what he said. He slapped me in the face.” “I kicked off my shoes and tried to scramble out of my tights, but I wasn’t fast enough and the guard kicked me in the back. (pg.12) after removing her tights, Chana is forced to scrub the stairs with her own tights.

One of Nolan’s greatest strengths as a writer is her ability to describe scenes and what a character was going through with such detail I feel that I’m there with the character, seeing and feeling what they are experiencing, and live as the character. She described how the characters felt in certain scenes that I felt like I was the character and felt what they were feeling. Nolan describes how Hilary was feeling after a vision of Chana’s mother and sister were taken away in a way that makes me feel just as sad and urgent as if I were in that situation. “They should have taken me, not Anya. She was so good. She was always so cheerful, so full of life. What am I? I’m a burden to Bubbe and Jakub. (pg141) one aspect of the novel I found most enjoyable was the suspense in each chapter that made me want to keep reading and find out what happens to the character. “There was a knock on the door. During Shiva no one ever knocked…’let us not be foolish. No Germans would politely knock on our door.’” (pg. 42) Here, I wanted to keep reading to find out who was knocking on the door, and if it was Germans coming to take them to a work camp, or just kill them there. Nolan describes one of Brad’s motives to coming to visit her “this whole building is going to go up in flames. You’re a hero, Hil. Remember that. You’re dying for the cause.” (pg143) Here I want to keep reading to find out if Hilary is going to live or not. One aspect of the novel that bothered me as a reader was that the end of some chapters were always clear in what was going on and left me a little confused. On page 279 Nolan describes a vision that Chana is getting, but then ends it and begins talking about what she sees when she open her eyes, leaving me to make an inference of what might have happened in the vision. I think Nolan could have been clearer in what was going on.

The theme of

If I Should Die Before I wake

is communicated as Hilary and Chana both fight for their lives after being placed in different situations and being on different sides of the Jews. Overall, this novel is an amazing story which really makes the reader think about and feel all the terrible things the characters went through. I would give this novel 4 ½ stars out of 5 because it was great story with vivid detail, but some sections seemed hard to follow. I would recommend this novel to 6th-8th grade students who enjoy reading/learning about the Holocaust.

Historical Accuracy Analysis

Based on my research, the novel is historically accurate. The details the author gives helped me to understand the historical setting of the novel. The way the author describes the Auschwitz concentration camp describes the actual Auschwitz camp. The way the author describes the ghetto Chana is forced to live in describes how Jewish children and families living in the ghettos suffered. The group called the Aryan Warriors was the group that the author said Hilary belonged to and was an actual thing. The Aryan Warriors were a racist prison gang, which doesn’t apply to Hilary and is inaccurate in that way, but helps me to understand just how much Hilary hated Jews. Most of the book was based off of historically accurate things rather than made up things created for the effect. Throughout the book, if it wasn’t a person or place in history that the author was referring to, she referred to things that would happen to the Jews. For example, one morning, in the Auschwitz camp, Chana was sick and fell to her knees throwing up during roll call. For the mistake of just one person the entire group was punished and forced to get on to their knees and remain that way until the leader said they could stop. This particular event may not have occurred in actual history, but shows that the entire group of people would be punished for the mistake of just one person, which is historically accurate. The author described all the main historically accurate details so vividly it felt like the amount of suffering or hate the characters felt were expressed the way people from that time and in that situation would have felt. But the author could have added a few more historically accurate details. The author did a good job of keeping the details focused on that time period and didn’t add anything from before or after the story was supposed to take place.

Short Informative Piece

Short Informative Piece

‘”Auschwitz,” the taller woman said to us, her head bobbing on her neck.

We ignored her

“We are going to Auschwitz.” she said in German.

Bubbe nodded. “I know the place, Oswiecim, we call it. It is in Poland. Chana, we are returning to Poland.”

“We die in Poland then,” said the other woman

“Why are we going to Oswiecim?” I asked Bubbe. “There is nothing there but swamp.”

“To work, to starve, to die,” said the shorter woman. “I have heard it so. No one returns from this Auschwitz.”

Auschwitz, the largest ‘Nazi concentration and death camps’, opened in 1940 and was used to exterminate Jews and other Nazi enemies. They were killed and tortured in gas chambers, used as labor slaves, and some were even sentenced to medical experiments. By the end of World War II, over 1 million people had lost their lives in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Due to the approaching of the Soviet army in 1945, the Nazis ordered that the camp be abandoned, and sent about 60,000 people to other locations. By the time the Soviets got there, they found ‘thousands of emaciated detainees’ and piles of dead bodies.

After the start of World War II, the German chancellor began a policy called the final solution. Hitler had become convinced that the ‘Jew problem’ would be solved by eliminating all the Jews in his controlled areas. To further continue with his plan, Hitler organized death camps, which are different from concentration camps. Concentration camps were used as detention centers for Jews, prisoners, and other Nazi enemies but later evolved to a place where they were exterminated. Whereas death camps were for the ‘sole purpose of exterminating Jews and other “undesirables”.’ This became known as the Holocaust.

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Short Narrative Piece

Dear Nadzia,

I know you are living happily in America with the family you have been with since you were just a baby, but if you don’t already know this, they are not your real family. Back in Poland, just before times got bad for the family, mama gave you to some friends of hers to take you to America where you would be safe, and you were then given to another couple, where you were raised. Before you left you had a big, wonderful family, but I regret to tell you that you and I are the only survivors. I am your sister Chana, and the only other member of our family to have survived the ghettos and the camps. I remember when Bubbe gave you a photo album filled with pictures of us. She said you will need to know, I now know what she meant. I am on my way to America and want to reunite with you. I hope to see you shortly. I love you with all my heart.

Love, Chana