Blog Tour: The Keeper of Hidden Books, Madeline Martin

Book Review: The Keeper of Hidden Books, Madeline Martin

The Keeper of Hidden Books, Madeline Martin

Historical Fiction: The Keeper of Hidden Books, Madeline Martin

Blog Tour September 29, 2023


Zofia is in her teens, living in Warsaw, Poland, during the beginning of World War II. She and her best friend, Janina, are inseparable. They are in the same class at school, they are part of the same Girl Guide troop, they are 2/3 of a reading club that only reads books that have been banned by Hitler. Although they are hopeful that Germany will not attack Poland, they are entirely confident that their brave Polish defenders will turn the invaders back.


Of course, Germany did invade, Poland did fall, and although Zofia continues to fully support her friend, Janina and her family are observant Jews. Under the control of the Nazis, the pressure on the Jews ratchets higher and higher. Eventually the order comes that all Jews must move into a ghetto, and Zofia tearfully says goodbye to Janina.


Zofia and Janina had gotten jobs at the Warsaw Library. Janina was forced to leave the library because of her Jewishness, but she insists that Zofia stay. The list of banned books starts to affect the library collection: librarians are ordered to cull the collection of offending titles. As the occupation becomes more and more harsh, the list of books to remove gets longer and longer.


However, Zofia and the librarians come up with a plan. Many of the books on the list have duplicates in the basement storage. When a book shows up on the list, the librarians surrender one copy of the book to the Nazis. The other they take to a branch of the library that was damaged in a bombing raid, but its own basement storage room was only mildly damaged. Book after book, Zofia fills the shelves of this secret stash with books that were otherwise destined to be destroyed.


The history of Warsaw and the rest of Poland during World War II is brutal. Five million Poles were murdered, three million of them Jews. Early in the occupation, leaders of all sorts were arrested, then shot in front of mass graves. Doctors, teachers, politicians, officers–all were victims of the Nazi goal to exterminate all of Warsaw’s intelligentsia. When the Jews in the ghetto rose up against the Nazis, the vast majority of the residents were slaughtered. When the Polish underground army believed the Soviet army’s promise that they would help defeat the Nazis, they began an uprising. Although the Soviet army was just across the river from Poland, close enough that their camps were visible from the city, they stayed where they were, thinking that if the Nazis and the Poles killed each other, their own capture of the country would become easier. Thousands of Poles, most of them civilians, were killed.


Martin weaves this history into Zofia’s story. Based on actual events, Zofia is witness to the carnage. The hidden library was indeed part of the underground movement, seeking to protect Polish literature and history from those who would erase it. Although Zofia and Janina are fictional characters, they represent the sacrifice and bravery of the real men and women of Warsaw. The deaths of their family and friends, and the improbable survival of some thought to be dead, are realistic depictions of the devastation wreaked by the Germans. 


I loved this book! It is not easy to read about the carnage, the destruction, the terror, and the cruelty of occupied Poland, especially Warsaw. But it is important that those stories are shared, and putting fictional characters into actual events opens that history for more readers than might pick up a textbook. The book is grim and often sad. It is also a story of heroism, of survival, of bravery, and of love. Sometimes when the world is dark and bleak, one has to make her own light. Zofia and Janina are lights during the blackest of nights.


Our thanks to Ann Cater of Random Things for our copy of The Keeper of Hidden Books, provided so we could give it an honest review. The opinions here are solely those of Scintilla. For other perspectives on this book, check out the other bloggers on this tour.


The Keeper of Hidden Books, Madeline Martin

Book Review: The Keeper of Hidden Books, Madeline Martin

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