Fiction — print. Harcourt, 2008. 362 pgs. Library.
Cyrla’s neighbors have begun to whisper. Her cousin, Anneke, is pregnant and has passed the rigorous exams for admission to the Lebensborn, a maternity home for girls carrying German babies. But Anneke’s soldier has disappeared, and the Nazis confiscate fatherless children.The neighbors know that Cyrla, sent from Poland for safekeeping with her Dutch relatives, is Jewish.
And then in the space of an afternoon, life falls apart. Cyrla must choose between certain discovery in her cousin’s home and taking Anneke’s place in the Lebensborn — Cyrla and Anneke are nearly identical. If she takes refuge in the enemy’s lair, can Cyrla fool the doctors, nurses, guards, and other mothers-to-be? Can she escape before they discover she is not who she claims?
I’m quite sure that I say this entirely too much, but I could not put My Enemy’s Cradle down. I was completely riveted, enthralled with the characters, and sucked into a part of Nazi Germany I knew nothing about. It’s a strong book, all the way through. Beginning to end. Young’s novel is love story filled with tragedy, heartbreak, and devastation. Which sounds incredibly contradictory, but it contains so much hope and love that the contrasting feelings pull the reader in one hundred directions and push the reader to the every end.
“I am a coward. Yes, I look away. I don’t allow myself to think about certain things. I can’t. it would kill me. So this is how I survive. This is how everyone I know survives except we can’t even talk about it. We’re all cowards.” (pg. 243)
A nail-biting book that had me frantically turning the pages, My Enemy’s Cradle is filled realistic characters and a solid, historical plot. Particularly, the characters of Cyrla, who feels guilty for taking her cousin’s place and torn between being half-Jewish and half-Dutch, and Nurse Ilse, who feels guilty for even being apart of the Lebensborn program but cannot leave because of parlaying fear of what they will do to her father and because she wants to provide hope for the girls who come to the maternity home alone and afraid.
“The world was cracking in two. One world half boy solders who missed their sisters and longed to sit in cafés with girls. The other held me who wrapped girls’ faces in latrine filth, and sliced my family from me, and who would not let me pass into a park or a train if they knew who I was. The world was cracking in two, and I was falling into the void.” (pg. 26)
For me, though, the most interesting part was the Lebensborn program, which including the breeding of a “superior race.” Because the male population had been decimated at the end of World War I, the birthrate plummeted and the Nazis set up Lebensborn, a maternity home stock piled with food, medicine, and other scare items so girls as young as fifteen could present their country with new citizens and future soldiers. If a child was not born as apart of the “superior race,” such as one friend of Cyrla’s whose baby was born deaf, they are disposed of. My Enemy’s Cradle is a fiction account based on a horrifying truth. Young has done a fantastic job of highlighting the horrors of Hitler’s Germany, while still maintaining a gripping love story, making this adult debut a compelling and emotional read.