The Yellow Bird Sings
National Jewish Book Award Finalist
"Rosner’s exquisite, heart-rending debut novel is proof that there’s always going to be room for another story about World War II....This is an absolutely beautiful and necessary novel, full of heartbreak but also hope, about the bond between mother and daughter, and the sacrifices made for love." —The New York Times
In Poland, as World War II rages, a mother hides with her young daughter, a musical prodigy whose slightest sound may cost them their lives.
As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:
The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.
In this make-believe world, Róza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.
Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope—a whispered story, a bird’s song—in even the darkest of times.
Praise For The Yellow Bird Sings: A Novel…
National Jewish Book Award Finalist
"Rosner’s exquisite, heart-rending debut novel is proof that there’s always going to be room for another story about World War II....This is an absolutely beautiful and necessary novel, full of heartbreak but also hope, about the bond between mother and daughter, and the sacrifices made for love."
—The New York Times
“Jennifer Rosner hooks readers from the onset…Readers will have empathy for Róza and Shira, and admire Róza’s courage and persistence as she faces life without her daughter, releasing her to save her, like a bird freed from a cage.”
"Prepare to have your heart broken."
"The Yellow Bird Sings is at the top of my reading list."
“A study of music, imagination and the power of a mother’s love.”
“Satisfying and sweet…Love, empathy and fear—as well as a yellow songbird—wind through this tale of an unbreakable bond between mother and child. The novel demonstrates Ms. Rosner’s deep understanding of the terrors of the Holocaust.”
“The book will help you escape the drudgery of solitude in your own home—and remember past beacons of hope during troubling times.”
“A riveting page-turner that will delight music lovers and please members of any book club.”
“The power of a mother-daughter bond is beautifully portrayed against the backdrop of 1941 Poland.”
—WBUR’s The ARTery
“Written in beautifully understated prose and tinged with magical elements, The Yellow Bird Sings is about the bonds between mothers and daughters, and the enduring power of music and storytelling even in the most devastating of times.”
“The Yellow Bird Sings pulled at all my heartstrings, then installed some more just to pull at those, too. Perhaps the most heartbreaking and moving WWII book since Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief…Melancholic and musical, Rosner’s narrative encapsulates the perseverance of hope even when it feels like hopelessness is all that’s left.”
“Rosner challenges the Holocaust with a touch of magic (the yellow bird appears throughout), clarifying a dangerous time and place even as she offers a vibrant, affecting portrait of the mother-daughter relationship.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“In Shira and Roza, Rosner captures two souls in turmoil, chronicling their grief as well as their strength of will to overcome, their longing and even surprising triumphs…The Yellow Bird Sings keeps your heart in your throat, your eyes pricked with tears.”
—BookPage (starred review)
“This stunning debut novel sings with the power of a mother’s love and the heartbreaking risks she’ll endure.”
“A World War II story with a Room-like twist, one that also deftly examines the ways in which art and imagination can sustain us…This is a Holocaust novel, but it’s also an effective work of suspense, and Rosner’s understanding of how art plays a role in our lives, even at the worst of times, is impressive.”
“Moving…A wrenching chronicle.”
“A beautiful book in so many ways. Like Shira’s imaginary bird, Jennifer Rosner’s prose is lilting and musical, yet her tale of war’s grave personal reality is gripping, heartrending, and so very real.”
—Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours and Before and After
“Music and love course through this beautiful novel, twin rivers of wonder. Jennifer Rosner has written a book that will break your heart, and then put it back together again, a little larger than before.”
—Alex George, author of A Good American
“Desperately moving and exquisitely written. If you only read one book this year, make it The Yellow Bird Sings. A beautiful story with achingly memorable characters, for me Jennifer Rosner’s novel stands alongside The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Code Name Verity as one of those profoundly special World War Two novels you know you will never forget.”
—AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs. Bird
“A beautifully written tale of mothers and daughters, war and love, the music of the living and the silence of the dead.”
—Kate Quinn, author of The Huntress and The Alice Network
“A captivating novel of the power of music, the human voice, and what we sacrifice in order to survive extraordinary circumstances. Absolutely riveting.”
—Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One Is Here Except All of Us
“An extraordinary debut novel, brimming with beauty, hope, and heart.”
—Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Last Train to London
“A brilliant and transporting novel.”
—Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“An extraordinarily beautiful and moving novel of the human heart. It is a rich and poignant story of the enduring power of love and hope in the face of peril.”
—David Gillham, author of City of Women
Flatiron Books, 9781250179760, 304pp.
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. What is the significance of Shira’s bird? How does it aid her? Do you think its original color, yellow, is important or telling? In what ways does the bird’s evolution mirror or not mirror Shira’s?
2. In the barn, Różahas to keep Shira—five years old and a musical prodigy—silent and still. What are her most effective strategies? Do you think she would have an easier time if Shira was younger or older?
3. When Róża asks Krystyna outright why she is helping them, Krystyna responds, “In God’s eyes your child is no different than mine. She deserves every chance to live.” What are Krystyna’s motivations for harboring Róża and Shira and, later, for arranging Shira’s transport to the convent? Do you think Krystyna knows of Henryk’s advances on Róża? If so, why doesn’t she send Róża and Shira away sooner?
4. How would you describe the relationship between Henryk and Róża? Does it change over time? From our twenty-first-century perspective, would we call it rape? Would Róża? Do you think she has any agency in their relationship? Is it still possible to think of Henryk’s decision to protect Róża and Shira, despite the risk, as heroic?
5. Judaism is fairly absent from the novel, despite it being the reason Róża’s and Shira’s lives are in danger. Why do you think that is the case? Why does Róża rarely reference her religion?
6. In the barn, Shira eats her own portion of food and whatever her mother saves for her. She also eats the special foods Krystyna gives her on outings. How does hunger, satiety, and the storing of food play out later, specifically with regard to her feelings of guilt?
7. In the convent, Zosia is permitted to speak but stays largely silent. As sheg rows more comfortable playing the violin, she comes to think of the sound as “safer even than silence.” What does the author mean by that phrase? Discuss the importance of music in the novel. What can music express that words (or silence) can’t?
8. Although the nuns dye Zosia’s hair and teach her Catholicism, she still feels like an outsider. Discuss the various ways in which the girls, the nuns, and Pan Skrzypczak treat her otherness, and the forms of prejudice and kindness she encounters. Do you think they suspect that she is Jewish?
9. Discuss Róża’s relationship with the sisters, Miri and Chana, and Zosia’s relationship with Kasia at the convent. How is female friendship portrayed in this novel? How is it different from the relationship between mother and daughter?
10. At the camp in the woods, Róża is heartbroken to realize that other families remained intact: “Here are mothers, in the woods, in winter, who did not part from their children. They kept them with them and their children survived.” Do you think she still made the right decision in sending Shira away? What would you have done in her place?
11. Różacannot bear to hold Issi, a young child at the camp. Issi’s mother doesn’t understand, and the narrator explains,“What is whole does not comprehend what is torn until it, too, is in shreds.”Do you agree that there is an inevitable limit to our empathy? Can novels like The Yellow Bird Sings expand our capacity to empathize? If so, how?
12. Over the course of the novel, Shira becomes Zosia and then Tzofia. What does she lose with each name change? In her author’s note, Jennifer Rosner writes of the hidden children who inspired her novel: “If you remember me, if there is anyone out there who recognizes me and can tell me about my family, my name, then I might discover my history, my roots: my self. For refugees of current wars and violence, children displaced and torn from their families, this question echoes on.” Do you agree that Shira’s experiences continue to resonate today, with the global refugee crisis?
13. Why do you think Róża decides not to try to have more children once she moves to America? Do you think that was a selfish decision? Was it fair to Aron to keep it from him, or does she have the right to make that choice for herself?
14. What did you think of the novel’s ending? Do you believe that Shira and Róża will have a future together?