Hanna Michelson is a fifteen year old girl, living in Riga with her mother and grandmother. Her father was taken away by the Russians but they live a good life. That is until the day the Germans arrive, because Hanna is Jewish and nothing else matters now.

The Earth is Singing is a simply told story of one girl living through the heart breaking horrors of the holocaust in Latvia. Keeping the style simple works as the atrocities speak for themselves. The story shows how the changes started off small, slowly taking away liberties from the Jews of Riga, each time tightening the belt one notch more.

When Hanna’s story starts, she has a promising future as a ballerina, training at the city’s ballet school. She has a boyfriend who she thinks is perfect. She is just a normal teenage girl in a beautiful city. Yes, the Russians are there, but they cope. Knowing the history, it’s a heart breaking moment when the people of Riga welcome the Germans because they have got rid of the Russians.

Soon, Hanna’s friends turn away from her, calling her a dirty Jew. She can no longer take pleasure in her dancing, or a walk in the park. When her beloved Uldis joins the police and dons a uniform, how can that be good news for her?

It feels different, the night they seal the ghetto. I feel different too. All the last bits of my innocence have been stripped away, never to return.

The book goes into more detail on the Jewish faith and customs that any others I’ve read dealing with the same subject matter. Hanna’s Oma is very strict about her worship, so when that slides, you realise this is the point they know life is about surviving, not living. There’s a very touching scene when they’re in hiding in a loft, and they get the chance to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

It’s interesting that Vanessa chose to tell the story from the point of view of a half Jewish girl, who did not look Jewish and possibly could have passed had she separated from her family. There is one scene where she announces that she no longer wishes to be Jewish but her mother explains that half her blood is enough for the Nazis to hate her. Her appearance gives the reader a false sense of hope.

If you’re not aware of the massacre that happening in Latvia during the war, beware this book contains some traumatising events. One in particular you just couldn’t make up, but which very sadly happened. If teenagers are no longer being taught about the holocaust in school, then they could do worse than read this book. Hanna’s story isn’t an exaggerated one. The beautiful title has a truly awful source.

Goodreads | Amazon | Waterstones | Hive

Book Source: Purchased