Crow Stone by Gabriele Goldstone

Review by Charlotte Mundy

Ronsdale Press Ltd., 2022

288 pages, paperback, $18.95, 9781553806653

12+, Grade 7+

Historical Fiction

      With fingers shaking, I struggle to button up my overcoat and tighten the woollen coat’s belt more than necessary, as if buckling tight will contain my fear. The scarf I wrap around my neck and half way up my face is not just for the cold. It’s my cocoon, my nest, my inner sanctum where I mumble… God, help me. Then I adjust the knapsack over my shoulders and distribute its weight over my strained shoulders.

            At the storage shed, I grab my bicycle and walk it along tire tracks through the dirty snow. Heading past the empty patrol station, the realization hits me like a snowball: our Wehrmacht won’t protect us anymore and, like those dying horses, for us there is no mercy shot.

            Katya’s story begins in East Prussia, a region ruled by Nazi Germany, near the end of the Second World War. Most of the men have been sent to war, including Katya’s brother, while the women work arduous jobs to keep the country functioning. As the war comes to a close and word spreads that Hitler has fallen, the East Prussians desperately flee from the encroaching Red Army which is rumoured to be fueled by rage and revenge. Katya, her two younger sisters, and thousands of other refugees set out on a harrowing journey through a treacherous life-threatening winter until eventually Katya is captured by the Russian army. Her ability to speak both Russian and German proves to be useful, even life-saving at times, as she embarks on a horrifying journey into Russia as one of many prisoners forced to work in labour camps. When survival is the only option, Katya’s willingness to find hope in the darkest situations carries her forward one gruelling day at a time.

            Crow Stone by Gabriele Goldstone is an incredible story inspired by the author’s mother who was captured by the Red Army in the final months of World War II and forced to work in a labour camp for over two years in Russia. I appreciated every moment of Katya’s experience and learned a great deal along her journey of the Second World War, especially since I have not encountered many narratives from an East Prussian perspective. The story is told empathically as Katya grows to understand there is no winning side in war, only loss. Her story conveys the most brutal and harshest truths, with horrific acts committed by both parties. As Katya learns of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Russian people, she begins to understand the source of the Russian army’s wrath against German civilians.

            This novel is extremely descriptive of the violence that occurs during war and was difficult for me to read at times. Although the story is incredibly gripping and unbelievably captivating, the vivid details of sexual violence, murder, and abuse against both adults and children may be triggering for some. That being said, I am immensely glad that I read this book. Katya’s journey fully immerses the reader with sharp detail to the point where at times, I felt as though I was there with her. The conveyed themes of war offer valuable messages where Katya, the soldiers, and the innocent civilians were all victims of their leaders, Hitler and Stalin, who observed the punishment of their citizens from afar. Crow Stone by Gabriele Goldstone is an incredible story inspired by true events which needed to be told. Even though the book can be graphic at times, I believe it is both an educational and captivating read.

            Charlotte Mundy completed her undergraduate with a BSc in Nursing. Living with the curse of creativity while working in a scientific field, she has been taking writing courses at UBC to satisfy her appetite for literature. She has always enjoyed reading and writing and hopes to one day become an author.

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