Review

My Enemy's Cradle

by Sara Young

I've
admired Sara Young for years. Under the name Sara Pennypacker, she
has written numerous whimsical, touching books for young children.
With her first novel for adults, Young proves that her facility for
writing heartfelt, realistic characters extends to general fiction
as well. The result is a remarkable debut, MY ENEMY'S CRADLE, which
introduces readers to both a memorable heroine and one of the
lesser-known --- but most shocking --- aspects of the Nazi
regime.

Cyrla and her cousin Anneke have always been the closest friends.
Ever since half-Jewish Cyrla moved from Poland to Anneke's small
Dutch city at the very beginning of the Nazi campaign, the two
girls have been as close as sisters. Many casual acquaintances even
confuse them, as they look so much alike. But those who know and
love them could never mistake Anneke --- with her lively
personality, flair for fashion, and flamboyant nail polish and
makeup --- for quiet, thoughtful Cyrla, who translates her
observations and frustrations into poetry.

Under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, nothing is easy for
either girl. As the Germans crack down on the freedoms of Jews in
occupied countries, Cyrla lives in constant fear that her neighbors
will expose her family history to the authorities. As for Anneke,
she's in love with a German soldier --- and soon discovers she's
carrying his baby.

Outraged by his daughter's indiscretions, Anneke's father threatens
to send her to a nearby Lebensborn, a maternity home run by the
Nazis, where children fathered by good Aryan soldiers are born and
then given to German families to raise as the next generation of
Nazi soldiers.

Meanwhile, Cyrla's own relationship with a prominent Jewish lawyer
threatens to expose both her and her lover. When Anneke's boyfriend
refuses to acknowledge his child, the normally effervescent young
woman grows increasingly desperate. Finally, in a tragic turn of
events, Cyrla and her aunt decide that the only safe course of
action is for Cyrla herself to "escape" to the Lebensborn --- using
Anneke's papers and her name.

At the Lebensborn, Cyrla uncovers the true horrors of the
Nazis’ plans for furnishing future generations. Through her
relationships with pregnant young women (both Nazi sympathizers and
simply unlikely casualties of war) and the Lebensborn staff, Cyrla
discovers the complexities of war --- as well as the
near-impossibility of her own escape. Most importantly for Cyrla,
however, she finds love, with the most unlikely candidate
imaginable.

If MY ENEMY'S CRADLE has a fault, it is that Young drops a few too
many clues early in the novel, leaving some later revelations and
ironies less than surprising for careful readers. That being said,
however, there are few other weaknesses in this utterly powerful
book.

With MY ENEMY'S CRADLE, Sara Young shows herself more than capable
of constructing a compelling novel for adults. The true story of
the Nazi Lebensborn program is one that has rarely been told, and
in her fictional account, Young does a masterful job of both
exposing its brutal realities and placing it within an equally
captivating narrative. Cyrla is a determined, introspective but
compassionate protagonist, and readers will share Cyrla's
hesitation, reluctance and finally delight as she allows herself to
fall into a most unexpected love affair. Young draws readers
simultaneously into the horrors of Nazi Germany, the heart of a
strong woman, and a love that transcends loyalties, logic and
national boundaries.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 7, 2011

My Enemy's Cradle
by Sara Young

  • Publication Date: January 14, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0151015376
  • ISBN-13: 9780151015375