The Song of the Stork by Stephen Collishaw
‘The very thought of what had happened to her in the woods filled her with horror. Nevertheless, she felt an uncontrollable urge to know.’
Yael is a young Jewish girl, torn from her family and left to fend for herself in the outskirts of Russia. The novel begins with Yael already separated from her loved ones and suffering. Almost immediately, she finds herself alone and desolate in the woods, and must test her wit and determination. The young girl’s will to survive dominates these pages, and as Winter progresses, she is eventually taken in by the reluctant Aleksei, a local mute.
Yael, from the Hebrew meaning ‘mountain goat,’ is as strong and as stubborn as her namesake. She works her way in to Aleksei’s home and ultimately in to his heart. A timid and unlikely friendship blooms in the cold countryside while war rages around the farmhouse. The delicate tension of Yael and Aleksei’s relationship is stunning – they fall in to a ritualistic dance of collecting firewood, cooking broth, cleaning, and reading poetry in the evenings before bed.
Nonetheless, the war will not be ignored – as German troops intrude, Yael is forced once again to flee, and becomes entangled with a partisan group fighting in the woods. She listens to the whispers and the wind in the trees, eager for any mention of her brother’s name, eager to learn what has become of her parents, her life.
I found Stephen Collishaw’s novel timely, focussed, beautifully written, inspiring and educational. Yael’s story is an alternative to the stories we have been told about the second World War. Ultimately, The Song of the Stork is a novel of human endurance, and of one young woman finding her voice; when those around her are extinguished, Yael refuses to be silenced. An important work of literature, The Song of the Stork will be available from March 1st 2017.