Briar Rose: A Novel of the Holocaust

Briar Rose: A Novel of the Holocaust


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Briar Rose is a historically sensitive retelling of Sleeping Beauty set amid forests patrolled by the German army during World War II.

In the heat of midsummer 1942, deep in a forest in the heart of Poland, Briar Rose arrives at a castle that has fallen into the hands of an evil army. Corrupted by dark deeds and choked by a poisonous mist, the castle will soon come to be known as Chelmno extermination camp. And in that place of death, Briar Rose is plunged into a deep sleep....

Ever since she was a child, Rebecca has been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma's stories of Briar Rose. Becca would have sworn the stories were made up, but on her deathbed Gemma extracts from Becca a promise to fulfill three impossible requests: find the castle, find the prince, and find the spell-maker. Her vow sends Becca on a remarkable journey to uncover the truth of Gemma's astonishing claim: I am Briar Rose.

Yolen's graceful retelling of the German folktale of “Briar Rose”—known to some as “Sleeping Beauty”—sets the story amid forests patrolled by the German army during World War II. Yolen confronts the deeply tragic events of the Holocaust with lyrical prose and rich characterizations that tell a tale of good and evil, hope and despair.

The Washington Post called Briar Rose “a terrifically moving story.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765382948
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/19/2016
Series: Tor Fairy Tale Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 107,726
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 16 - 18 Years

About the Author

Born and raised in New York City, Jane Yolen attended Smith College and then received a Master's in Education from the University of Massachusetts. The distinguished author of more than 200 books-including Sister Light, Sister Dark, Owl Moon, and The Devil's Arithmetic-has won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the Jewish Book Award, and two Christopher Medals. SFWA named her the 2017 Damon KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER for her contributions to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yolen composes songs and is a professional storyteller on the stage. She lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts, and St. Andrews, Scotland.

Read an Excerpt

Briar Rose

A Novel of the Fairy Tale Series
By Yolen, Jane

Tor Books

Copyright © 1993 Yolen, Jane
All right reserved.

"Gemma, tell your story again," Shana begged, putting her arms around her grandmother and breathing in that special smell of talcum and lemon that seemed to belong only to her.
"Which one?" Gemma asked, chopping the apples in the wooden bowl.
"You know," Shana said.
"Yes--you know," Sylvia added. Like her sister, she crowded close and let the talcum-lemon smell almost over-whelm her.
Baby Rebecca in the high chair banged her spoon against the cup. "Seepin Boot. Seepin Boot."
Shana made a face. Even when she had been little herself she'd never spoken in baby talk. Only full sentences; her mother swore to it.
"Seepin Boot." Gemma smiled. "All right."
The sisters nodded and stepped back a pace each, as if the story demanded their grandmother's face, not just her scent.
"Once upon a time," Gemma began, the older two girls whispering the opening with her, "which is all times and no times but not the very best of times, there was a castle. And in it lived a king who wanted nothing more in the world than a child.
" 'From your lips to God's ears,' the queen said each time the king talked of a baby. But the years went by and they had none."
"None, none, none," sang out Rebecca, banging her spoon on the cup with each word.
"Shut up!" Shana and Sylvia said inunison.
Gemma took the spoon and cup away and gave Rebecca a slice of apple instead. "Now one day, finally and at last and about time, the queen went to bed and gave birth to a baby girl with a crown of red hair." Gemma touched her own hair in which strands of white curled around the red like barbed wire. "The child's face was as beautiful as a wildflower and so the king named her..."
"Briar Rose," Sylvia and Shana breathed.
"Briar Rose," repeated Rebecca, only not nearly so clearly, her mouth being quite full of apple.
Copyright 1992 by Jane Yolen


Excerpted from Briar Rose by Yolen, Jane Copyright © 1993 by Yolen, Jane. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Briar Rose 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When you look at the true fairy tales, they were often horrible and scary. The children's stories were often sanitized, friendly versions of much darker tales. Using that model, Jane Yolen has created a masterpiece of Holocaust literature. Very seldom does an author use the vehicle of a children's story to tell an important tale such as this. Yolen should be commended for having the courage to create characters we feel for. It also shows us that the Holocaust was not just a Jewish event, that other groups were murdered by Hitler's madmen. And that is why we must not forget. This novel goes a long way toward helping keep this message alive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book as an Honors English 10 student. A lot of people in my class didn't like it (so I don't know what their problem is) but it was a very good book, easy to read, and the story opens your eyes to a few of the horrors of the Holocaust. I know it isn't really a possibility, but I would love to read a sequel :)
Bookish59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of Terri Windling's "The Fairy Tale Series" which reinterprets popular children's fairy tales by associating them with historical or current events. Briar Rose is a solid contribution to the series and attempts to help young readers approach and access the horror of the Holocaust. While most of the characterizations were believable especially Becca, Stan, and Potocki, Becca's older sisters are overly exaggerated and belong in a reinterpretation of Cinderella. (Read this book to see what I mean.)Definitely worth reading!
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love how the seemingly innocuous Sleeping Beauty fairy tale wove right into the holocaust story of the horrors of the polish death camps.
justine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A sleeping beauty story with a twist, set during the holocaust.
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a grandmother who told a story of Briar Rose. A princess who is revived by a kiss from a prince. Her past is mysterious and when she dies her youngest grandaughter goes to find out more about her. Intercut with the story, Becca, the grandaughter, hunts up the past, finding that fairy story echoes the reality, but that fairy stories are sometimes much better than reality. Haunting and beautiful it's a masterful retelling of the story, without losing the feel of the original
Jenson_AKA_DL on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At the death bed of her beloved grandmother, Gemma, Becca makes a promise to discover the secret of Briar Rose, the fairy tale which may lie at the heart of Gemma¿s mysterious past.This is a story I picked up at a library sale basically because I knew that the author is from my local area and that I¿ve always been interested in fairy tale retellings. Insofar as the local area went I was rather tickled that of the Western Massachusetts places are ones I¿m very familiar with, and even the Advocate paper, were mentioned and visited. I¿ve never read a story by Jane Yolen before and I was pleased to find her writing style quite pleasant to read. The only point of disappointment that I felt is that this is another book which is purported to be ¿fantasy¿, when in reality it is no such thing at all. This story is actually a rather riveting story of Becca¿s discovery of her grandmother¿s roots in escaping the holocaust, and as such is truly too horrifying and real a premise to be considered anything like a fantasy. Putting that aside, this was a very well told and engrossing tale. I liked Becca¿s character very much and her personal journey into her roots in Poland and her grandmother¿s past were interesting. As to be expected, Josef P.¿s story, when the reader gets there, is disturbing on every level. It was quite reminiscent of another book I read last year called ¿Damned Strong Love¿ and should you read this part of the story and be interested in a true story written very much in the same vein, I would highly suggest reading it.Despite the fact that had I realized the true content of this book before picking it up I never would have done so, I can¿t say that I disliked this book. Sometimes I have to admit that reminding ourselves of humanities past atrocities gives new incentive toward wanting to prevent anything like that of ever happening again in the future.
bikerevolution on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Modern story that combines fairy tales with the attrocities of the mass genocide of Gypsies, Jewish, and gay people by Nazi Germany during WW2. Fairy tales are often seen as stories used to amuse and calm children. But if you think about the origin of fairy tales, you see that they weren't really written for children; they have been watered down through the years, but many original fairy tales dealt out severe, sometimes bloody punishments for its characters. Becca's grandmother uses fairy tales to avoid directly talking about her experiences as a holocaust survivor, and the watered down fairy tale hides terrible horrors. After her grandmother's death, Becca decides to seek out the truth behind the fairy tales.
RRHowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think that this is an unsung masterpiece. It got marketed as science fiction, which it is not.
krau0098 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really like fairy tale retellings, so I was eager to read this book. It is a good book, but not so much about fairy tales as about the Holocaust and one girl's struggle to uncover her grandmother's past.Becca's grandmother, Gemma, always tells the story of Sleeping Beauty. As Gemma ages and gets sick, the story of Sleeping Beauty is the only thing she ever says. When Gemma passes she leaves a mysterious box of trinkets for Becca. Becca has promised to track down her grandmother's past and uses the box of clippings and trinkets to find out the story of her grandmother who thought she was a Polish Princess.This was a very well-written book and a very interesting idea. When I realized that this was a book that merged the story of Sleeping Beauty with the Holocaust I was a bit taken aback. I mean the origins of fairy tales are never pretty, but I can't think of an uglier time in human history than the Holocaust. The chapters alternate between short snippets of Gemma reciting her version of Sleeping Beauty and chapters following Becca's journey to find out what happened to Gemma.More than anything this is a fairly accurate fictional accounting of events that happened during the Holocaust; as you might expect this makes for a somewhat sad, depressing, and distressing read. This story is much more about history, the origins of fairy tales in general, and human nature than it is about Sleeping Beauty. While there are some echoes of hope throughout the book, the majority of it explores the evils of the Holocaust and the struggles people went through during that time. The renditions of some of the actions taken by the Nazis are disturbing and accurate, although not overly gory.The story itself is very engaging and hard to put down as you are struggling to guess what Becca will find out about her grandmother. All in all it was a good read, just not necessarily a pleasant one. I have read works by Yolen before and her writing style is excellent; I am not used to her dealing with such a serious topic.Overall, this was an excellent read. People should be prepared more for a different variation of Holocaust events than a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. This book is about so much more than fairy tales. Yolen also has a brief afterward telling which events in the book really happened and which she fabricated to meet the stories needs. For those of you who have read enough about the Holocaust to know how truly disturbing it was; you may want to skip this. I do think that everyone should be exposed to the horrors of those times though so that they are remembered...and this book does an excellent job of doing that while pulling readers through an intriguing story at the same time.
elsi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all-time favorite books.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Using the Sleeping Beauty fairytale to talk about the Holocaust is quite a clever move since most of Europe (and the world) was "asleep" before and during the war. The first part of Yolen's story deals with Becca's attempts to investigate her grandmother's history, a history the grandmother herself seems to have repressed. The second part tells the story of the extermination camp in Chelmno and the freedom fighters who tried to liberate its prisoners. Of the two, the second story is definitely the more heartfelt one, not only because of the topic, but because its storyteller, Joseph, is a much rounder person than the other characters. Though this is currently marketed as a YA-novel, the account of the camp and the murders that took place there are important for everyone to read, adults as well as older teenagers.
meyben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this story. It was intersting how the story of the Jews and WWII were tied in. Gave a great insight.
mrsdwilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gemma is an old woman with three granddaughters. As they grow up, she often tells them the story of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty). It is not until the girls get older that they realize their grandmother has not merely been telling them a story--she has been telling HER story, the story of how she survived during the Holocaust. While the Holocaust and a fairy tale do not seem like they go together, Yolen does a masterful job of weaving the two together in a way that is so natural and lovely that it will take your breath away. Anyone interested in WWII and/or fairytales should give this one a try. You won't be disappointed.
tipsister on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I picked up Briar Rose, I really anticipated reading a version of Sleeping Beauty. I had no idea I'd be reading a book about the Holocaust. That said, it took nearly 150 pages to get to the portion of the book about the Holocaust.First the good . . . The last fifty pages or so were quite gripping. Gemma's story was horrifying and tragic. I was completely engrossed. Then the bad . . . The first one hundred and fifty-ish pages were boring. I didn't like the style of writing. It seemed very amateurish and way too detailed. Details can be lovely but not when the author describes the main character bending over to get a magazine. That's not important.The book got rave reviews for the most part. I'm afraid I can't contribute to those. While I feel the story of the Holocaust is important to tell, I don't think this book was good enough to really do that. It is listed as a novel for young adults and yet the subject matter was quite adult and there are scenes of homosexuality that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
lifeafterjane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"'Fairy Tales always have a happy ending.' That depends... on whether you are Rumpelstiltskin or the Queen."When you think about fairy tales, one tends to picture the standard issue beautiful princess, there is an evil adversary (usually a stepmother), and said princess is rescued from whatever awful situation she's been put in (by the stepmother, sorry stepma) by a dashing, brave and handsome prince. He or she or both are usually assisted by something otherworldly such as fairies or mutant frogs and of course there is a price that must be paid for said service- often something small and inconsequential like their eternal soul. But after it is all said and done, the one thing you can always count on in a fairy tale, is a fairy tale ending- happily ever after, Christmas trees and pie.Those aren't real fairy tales. Those are children's stories. Happy, pleasing little ditties designed to give a false sense of well being with the world and to entice them to sleep- and that's OK, because if you read your children a real fairy tale, the way they were written and meant to be told...they would be too afraid to ever shut their eyes.Becca was a little girl who loved bedtime stories. Her favorite was the story of Sleeping Beauty as told by her Grandmother, her Gemma. She grew up on this tale, enchanted by the castle covered in thorns and it's inhabitants who were magically made to sleep and the handsome prince who awakened the sleeping beauty with a kiss. Gemma's telling of the story was different from the happy classic that most are familiar with. In her story, the beauty has red hair, like Becca and her grandmother and when the people are put to sleep by the evil fairy's mist, only one ever wakes up.A Becca all grown up sits at the side of her Gemma's deathbed, where she makes her grandmother a promise that she doesn't know how she'll keep. All her life she has been told the story of Briar Rose and now, with her last breath Gemma is claiming the story as her own, that she is the sleeping beauty.Very little was known about Gemma's past. Even her daughter was uncertain as to what her real name was. The only thing they are sure of is that Gemma escaped to the United States, during WWII- during the holocaust. Determined to solve the mystery of her grandmother's past and to fulfill her promise to Gemma, Becca embarks on a journey into one of the darkest times in history.A wall of thorns becomes a barbed wire fence, a castle an extermination camp, and the mist that made the people of the castle fall asleep- something horrible and unthinkable.This was a difficult book to read and I needed a good week between reading it and writing this to get over the initial impact of the story. It's dark, and disturbing. Haunting doesn't cover it- this story doesn't just stay with you, it becomes a part of you and it hurts.This book is part of a series by Terri Windling that features, dark recreations of classic fairy tales. Which I agree, the darker interpretations are more true to form. I remember my big, battered well love copy of Grimm's fairy tales. Some of them scared the heck out of me.I appreciate this book, but to say I enjoyed it would be rather morbid. It's uncommonly good- save for the dialogue which tended to be rather stilted and at times removed me from the story.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Becca's grandmother Gemma has told her the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose) her whole life. When Gemma passes away Becca realizes that her family barely knew anything about her past. She begins a search to uncover the secrets of her own heritage and in doing so finds the truth woven into the fairy tale story.This brilliant retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale broke my heart. I was hooked from the first pages. It combines elements of the classic story with real facts about the Holocaust. Then weaves other important issues into the fold, prejudice, cowardice, homosexuality, wartime heroes, sibling relationships, the importance of knowing your history and the power of stories. I loved the characters and though the subject matter is obviously difficult, the story is so well done that I still enjoyed reading it. I know this is one that I will be rereading in the future.
tdfangirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to admit, this book was difficult to read, and not just for the obvious reason. The Holocaust stories were gut-wrenching, but watching Becca's grandmother go senile and die was particularly tough for me, as my own great-grandmother is affected by dementia.Other than crying through the first chapter or two, I found this a fascinating read. There were a few things that stuck out in the narrative, the "romance" in particular, but I found the way that Yolen blended the metaphor of Briar Rose with Gemma's own experiences to be very effective.
andreablythe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty is interwoven with the Holocaust. Becca has heard her grandmother (Gemma) tell the tale of Sleeping Beauty her whole life. Gemma has always been a mystery to her and her whole family. No one is sure that Gemma is even her grandmother's realy name. The only clue is the fairy tale, and when her grandmother dies, it is that tale that leads Becca to search for the truth. This is a hard mix to try and pull off, but Yolen does it deftly. I was carried along by Rebecca's search to learn about her grandmother. Seeking out family history is a twisted labyrinth and when you get to center, you don't always like what you find. Really a wonderfully told story, and one of the most interesting and sad and creative retellings I've read.
DeltaQueen50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a wonderful twisting of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale and the holocaust together into the story of a young woman¿s search for her grandmothers¿ identity and her own roots. Classed as a Young Adult Book, the author does a remarkable job of not only showing the horrors visited upon Europe by Nazi Germany, but also what intolerance, ignorance and discrimination can lead to. Growing up hearing her Grandmother¿s story of Briar Rose, Becca always thought it was just a tale, until, on her death bed, her grandmother whispers, ¿I am Briar Rose¿. Promising her grandmother that she would follow the story back to the beginning, Becca embarks on a journey of a lifetime, following the slim clues she has all the way to Chelmno, a death camp in Poland.As Becca finds the link and hears the truth about her Grandmother, she is finally able to fit the pieces of the story of Briar Rose together, and her Grandmother¿s extraordinary life comes into full focus. I think this book, along with others like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Book Thief would be a very good introduction to this aspect of World War II.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Becca's grandma Gemma has always been a little different. She never liked to talk about her past. Instead, she told the same bedtime story for as long as Becca can remember - Briar Rose. Her dying words prompt Becca to search for the truth about her beloved Gemma and what she finds is more amazing and powerful than she could ever have expected.I really liked this story. I like Jane Yolen, but for some reason, I never felt prompted to pick up this book, thinking it was some depressing, didactic story about the Holocaust. But the group read here prompted me to give it a try. I am so glad that I did. It is not the best book I've read so far this year, but it is very good. More for older teens, mostly because of mature themes and some very dark segments.
sapphire--stars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was fantastic! I knew right of the bat I was going to like it, just by the way it was written and the characters developed. The story begins with a grandmother (called Gemma because her granddaughters couldn't pronounce 'grandma') telling for what we can tell is perhaps the millionth time, the story of Sleeping Beauty. What the story's protagonist called "Seepin' Boot". :] I smiled. I cried. I was very interested. All in all, this is definitely a good read in my book, one that I will have to add to my 'to buy' mental list. I was completely unsure how the author would be able to pull off a Holocaust story, with a bit of fairytale twist (really now, doesn't it just sound contradictory?). But it was successful. One line that made me chuckle: "She went to bed finished only a few pages of McKinley's Beauty, a book she read whenever she felt troubled" (92). The direct reference to a well-revered fairytale retelling made me want to redouble my efforts to read Beauty. I will have to check out more in this Terri Windling Fairy-Tale Series as well as more work by Jane Yolen. I have always had the notion to get my hands on a copy of her novella The Devil's Arithmetic.
lnommay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Booklist:Part of the Fairy Tale series created by Terri Windling, Yolen's recasting of the Sleeping Beauty tale is not fantasy; rather, it is a story evocatively grounded in the horror of the Holocaust. Ever since Rebecca was a toddler, she and her two older sisters had heard a unique version of Sleeping Beauty over and over again from their beloved grandmother, Gemma, who insists that she is Briar Rose. Alternating chapters advance the fairy tale and Rebecca's experiences in trying to fulfill her promise made on Gemma's death bed to find the castle in the sleeping woods, which Gemma leaves to Rebecca. Rebecca's investigation takes her to her grandmother's native Poland, from which ~emerges a tale of Nazi brutality, gas chambers, partisan activity, courage, guilt, and love. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Yolen's novel is a compelling reminder of the Holocaust as well as a contemporary tale of secrets and romance.
ncgraham on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jane Yolen¿s Briar Rose is a book that has been calling me for years. I actually tried to read it once before, when I was about thirteen, but I put it down half-way through because I decided I was not old enough to deal with some of the mature content. Now that I¿ve finally come back to it, I¿m not sure it was worth it, and will only admit that it has an awe-inspiring premise—the very reason I came back to it, of course. The idea of juxtaposing an old fairytale with the horrors of the Holocaust is, admittedly, brilliant.Becca Berlin has grown up hearing her grandmother (¿Gemma¿) tell her a version of ¿The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood¿ that is both like and unlike the story her friends know. On her deathbed the old woman makes the shocking claim: she says she is Briar Rose, and goes on to extract a promise from Becca to go out and find her story, her castle, her prince.I will say that the flashbacks, in which Gemma tells the fairytale to her granddaughters, are beautifully poetic. Also, I found the scenes leading up to and directly following the funeral are intriguing, and the middle part of the prince¿s narrative, harrowing. Basically, any section that focuses on Gemma is bound to be 100% better than what comes before and after. She is the solution to the rest of the story¿s mystery, the heart within its body, the spirit that transcends its cavern of flesh.But unfortunately she has to share the book with her granddaughter and her ¿prince,¿ neither of whom are very interesting. Becca especially is a dull and forgettable heroine. And this is only the beginning of the problems. Unfortunately, Yolen seems to feel that she needs to continually remind the reader that this is a fairytale, despite its modern setting. So she has her characters constantly reference folktales in the stream of everyday conversation, which struck me as odd and abnormal. (The fact that I do this all the time is nothing to the point; I never claimed to be normal.) She does the same with social issues. Indeed, she seems to spend about half the novel shouting at the reader about how very relevant she is. It¿s like she expects us to say, ¿Oh, Lordy, Lordy, Becca works for an ALTERNATIVE NEWSPAPER!!! And, look, now there¿s a GAY CHARACTER!!! OMG!!!¿ I will admit that I disagree with her on some of the topics she covers, but that isn¿t the reason I dislike the book—it has more to do with the way she handles the whole mess. I felt, as I read along, that I was being preached to. And very few novelists can do that well.In passing, I want to remark that I¿m incredibly disturbed that this book, originally published as an adult novel, has now been rereleased by Tor Teen, and labeled appropriate for ages 12 and up. Along with violence (expected when dealing with the Holocaust), there¿s a good deal of swearing, and a pretty vivid homosexual love scene. This is just further proof of how desensitized we¿re becoming as a society—a book with an adult content level is now deemed appropriate for twelve-year-olds!Yolen is a talented writer. After finishing this book, I reread her wonderful short story ¿Meditations in a Whitethorn Tree,¿ and was relieved to find that I loved it as much as ever. With as great a talent as hers, and as great a premise as this, it¿s a pity that Briar Rose turned out so poorly.
thumbsup on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and I was so moved. Its one of those stories you want to believe that is real because it is so great. The start is catchy and drags you in to it and the end just nails you. It was not till the last part did I count this as one of my top ten. I will not spoil it for it is too short for you not to pick up and read in one sitting.