In her latest novel, With Fearful Bravery, award-winning author Lynne Kositsky weaves a richly imagined community where unlikely companions become allies with a comradery born from hope, Shakespearean quotes, and the occasional magic trick.
Freda’s father disappears after he is arrested by the Nazis during Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Hoping to wait out the war in safety, eleven-year-old Freda, her younger sister Lotty, and their mother flee to Shanghai, where they are forced to live in a squalid communal space for Jewish refugees. Overwhelmed by the futility of their situation, Freda’s mother eventually abandons her daughters, and Freda is forced to accept responsibility for herself, her sister, and their sickly adopted grandmother. Eventually, their small unit grows to include Yoshi, a rebellious Jewish student with a puckish sense of adventure, Izo, an aspiring actress with convenient thieving abilities, and Song, a Chinese street waif. Together, the motley crew use their ingenuity to survive the difficult years of Japanese occupation.
Kositsky’s unusual setting choice – Shanghai – provides a fresh perspective on WWII, and neatly captures the unsettling limbo that paralyzed so many families dislocated by the war. Out of Shanghai’s twisted streets, temporary communities arose, and from this transience and instability, families were created through shared experience and sympathy rather than blood.
In Kositsky’s war, the good guys cannot be identified by their religion or their skin colour. Instead, people are complicated and messy; those who should provide comfort and protection are abusive and neglectful, random strangers become families, and, as the war progresses, “the enemy” proves increasingly difficult to recognize. This brilliant coming of age story follows Freda’s journey from the rebellious eleven-year-old stealing street food, to the experienced seventeen-year-old who dreams of a new life in Canada.