Tuesday, May 9, 2023

ETHEL'S SONG: Ethel Rosenberg's Life in Poems: A Review and Giveaway

 It's interesting to read a book when you know the ending even before you start. I knew the Rosenbergs were killed because they were suspected of spy activity. But I didn't know the events that led up to that tragic conclusion.

Barbara Krasner's choice of writing Ethel's Song (Astra Publishing, 2022) in free verse poetry is perfect. The poems are written in a variety of forms which lends interest and beauty to the book. By the end of the book, I was convinced that Ethel had written the poems herself; Barbara had captured her voice so well.


The book takes the reader from Ethel's ten-year-old self in 1925 to her death in 1953. As I frequently do when I'm reviewing a book written in poetry, I'll let snippets of the poems speak for themselves. 

                    WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A GIRL - 1925

Some girls may place their ambitions

in hope chests. But here on Sheriff

Street, here in the tenements

of New Your City's Lower East Side,

we children of immigrants sweep them

under the beds like dust. (p. 9)



Why does a government allow its people to live in poverty?

      Not all governments allow this. Look at Russia. 

Why can't we just believe in what makes sense to us?

         The Republicans don't make sense.

      The Democrats (sorry, Mr. President) don't make sense.

       The Communist Party matches what I believe in.

Why must there be hate?

      We hate what we don't understand.

       We hate people we don't understand.

Why must there be war?

       I can't answer this one. (p. 57)

Rosenbergs in a park in 1941.



The fascists are coming.

Only the Communists stand

against them. This is our only chance.

Father Joe, Josef Stalin,

Premier of the Society state,

leader of the Communist Party.

You are out there on your own

to face the enemy. (p. 69)


            ONE SONG TO SING- 1944


I want to choose one song to sing

to bring some to laughter, some to tears,

all to recognize nothing good comes from war.

But I don't know what song that would be. (p. 104) 


[Julie's] brought Dovey and Ruthie

into his network of people to help the Soviet Union.


I prefer to stay out of it.

I don't need a code name other than Mommy. (p. 111)



I'm not naive, really, I'm not,

but how could helping

the Soviet Union

defeat Hitler

make us the bad guys?

My brother has done nothing wrong

as far as I know. Expect that he's not that bright.

We have done nothing wrong

as far as I know. (p. 150) 


         THEY SAY 

We are Communists

Julius is a spy

Passing vital secrets to the Soviets

Compromising American democracy

Betraying all Americans





The Feds are crazy. (p. 157)

Ethel's poems from prison are simple yet heartbreaking. 



At home, we use screens to keep out

undesirables--soot, insects, pigeons.

Here when we're allowed to visit,

a screen separates me from Julie.

I can see his stubble, feel his breath,

but I can't touch,

I can't kiss,

I can't hold.

We are in the same place

at the same time. And yet we aren't. (p. 227)

Throughout the trial and appeals, the Rosenbergs pleaded innocent. Unfortunately, Ethel's brother, Dovey, told lies that implicated them both. Years later, Dovey admitted his lie on Sixty Minutes. 

The back matter includes an epilogue in which the story of the Rosenberg's two sons share their journeys. There is also a timeline and extensive bibliography. 


If you want to add this book to your personal or school collection, please leave a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog). U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends on May 16 but I am going away for two weeks. I will get the winner her book when I return. If you don't immediately see your post published, be patient. My internet will be spotty and I will see it eventually. Librarians and educators get two chances!



Danielle H. said...

This poetry collection is so powerful! I have to admit I wasn't aware of these historical people before reading your post. Thank you for the chance to win a copy.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Danielle. Your name starts the list.

Kim A. Larson said...

This sounds like such an interesting read. I had not heard of Ethel before now. Thanks for sharing. I will have to find this book!

Emily Weitz said...

So fascinating! I don't know much about this history. Would love to win a copy for my school.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Kim and Emily for commenting. Emily, your name goes in twice!

Natalie Aguirre said...

This sounds like a powerful book from what you shared. I'm going to let someone else win who has time to read this book now.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for leaving a comment Natalie.

Brenda said...

I don't know much about the history, but it sounds like an important story. I'm going to let someone else win this also. Happy MMGM to you.

Greg Pattridge said...

I found the poetry you shared to be a powerful look at Ethel's life. A great resource for libraries. I'll have to pass on the giveaway since I am woefully behind in my reading. Thanks for featuring this book on MMGM!

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This sounds like a wonderful and impactful story, Carol! I'm afraid I'll have to pass on the giveaway too, since I'm perpetually drowning in books, but I really appreciate your thoughtful review!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you for your comment, Max.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Greg, for letting me share this book on MMGm!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks,Brenda, for leaving a comment.

Valinora Troy said...

I hadn't heard of this lady before (I had to look her up!). I presume the poems are actually words she wrote herself now put into verse? I found it chilling (but not surprising) to hear her speak of Stalin (probably the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century) as 'Uncle Joe'. What a fascinating insight into that time! Thanks for sharing!

Kasey @ The Story Sanctuary said...

Oh! I have a copy of this book, and have really been wanting to read it. Earlier this year I read another historical novel in verse by Barbara Krasner about refugees aboard the M.S. St. Louis in 1939. I'm really excited about your review. I'm definitely going to have to bump this one to the top of my reading list now. :) Thank you for sharing! I hope the giveaway winner enjoys the book.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you Kasey. I know you will enjoy reading this book.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for stopping by, Valinora. A little scary, isn’t it? So much depends on what we hear and experience. I’m glad you pointed that out.

Rosi said...

The Rosenberg story is a powerful one, and Barbara has really captured it beautifully in this book. I loved it. No need to put me in the drawing. I have a copy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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