(Review) The Seven Year Dress by Paulette Mahurin
Genre: Historical Fiction, Holocaust, World War II.
Myra is a nursing student at UCLA looking for a room to rent. She rents a room and bath from Helen. Helen is an older woman. Her apartment is neat and tidy. It looks more like a sterile environment rather than a lived in apartment. One night Myra comes home stressed after a hard shift, she and Helen let their guards down and begin sharing. Helen pours them each a cup of tea, and then she shares her life story. Helen was born in 1919 in Berlin, Germany. Her father was a government attorney. Her mother a homemaker. They had four children. They are Jews. The neighbor boy, Max, is Helen's best friend. He is not a Jew. The years of Helen's childhood are thick with political changes. Antisemitism increases.
Helen was a Jew during the Holocaust. She survived. The Seven Year Dress is her story.
Holocaust and World War II stories are probably the genres I gravitate to the most. My dad was a Veteran of World War II. He was a D-Day Veteran. I'm very proud of this. Daddy shared many stories with me. As I got older, he shared the hard stories. I wanted to share where my strong interest in these genres began their spark. I have read a long list of Holocaust stories, so I have the ability to compare how authors have written their particular works.
What I liked about the story:
- Two women of different ages are brought together in a normal situation and both are profoundly changed by one woman's life.
- Helen is portrayed at different ages. She is a young child, youth, young woman, and older woman. Helen is the same person, but I saw her character growth as a result of life experiences. We all change through life, but Helen's life held horrible painful circumstances that most people never encounter. I felt Mahurin was right-on at each age and stage of Helen. She was a believable character.
- Early in the story, the history of this time period is given. The politics, Hitler's rise to power, World War II, antisemitism, the tightening grip on Jews, and the response of the civilian population (both Jew and Gentile.) I felt this gave me a small history lesson, but more of a building point in the story which builds the tension.
- Different types of love is shown in the story: love between lovers, love between friends, and love between family members. I felt Mahurin gave a well-rounded view of people-humanity, from all walks of life.
- The climax of the story is the time when Helen is in Auschwitz. Out of 336 pages, about 82 pages are devoted to this period.
- As a young woman, Helen is proud of her figure. She thinks about her voluptuous breasts and firm back side. She does not have a boyfriend and so she learns to please herself. What is my point? I actually have two. 1. Remember Helen as an older woman is telling Myra her story. The words in the book is the words Helen is speaking to Myra. I am 53 years old. I have never told another woman, nor another woman told me, not even my closest friends and sisters, about how hard my butt is or my voluptuous breasts. They would probably give me the raised eyebrow look and laugh. I feel this element took away from the story. I feel this made the story amateur. 2. Sex is for pleasure, but it is also a release for stress, and a source of comfort. A story about a woman surviving the Holocaust needs comfort. This element had the chance to be used as apart of the emotional trauma Helen was feeling. Instead it fell flat.