Jane Yolen Shares Why She Set Her New Novel During the Holocaust

YZM: Was there a historical basis for any of the characters?

JY: The characters are an amalgam. The munitions camp is an amalgam. But those kind of people existed, though not under those names. Those labor camps existed. (The Germans were such careful record keepers.) The Polish Resistance was the largest in Europe. I read books about Lodz Ghetto, articles about Poland’s forests and the “forest folk” as the Resistance were sometimes called. About how to make bullets and bombs. About cholera and typhoid. About the twin experiments. The research never seemed to end.

YZM: In your afterward, you point out parallels between Mapping The Bones and the story of Hansel and Gretel; can you talk about the use of fairy tales and fables in your work?

JY: I have been called the “Hans Christian Andersen of America” and always point out that really if anything I am the Hans Jewish Andersen of America! (Though that should really be Isaac Bashevis Singer!) And I have written original art fairy tales, retold others, put together a number of fairy tale anthologies for young readers as well as adults, and written quite a few fairy tale novels. Briar Rose is my second novel about the Holocaust, set in the death camp Chelmno (a real camp in a “schloss” or castle with barbed wire and vans filled with gas that “put people to sleep,” which hangs on the armature of Sleeping Beauty).

YZM: You are a well-established poet; were Chaim’s poems written especially for this book or had you written them earlier?

JY: These were created specifically for this book, but I have also taken the pieces of poems that Chaim doesn’t finish in the book and written the whole poem after I was done writing the novel. I am hoping some day (soonish) to put together a book of my Holocaust poems, the majority of which have been published in small magazines, anthologies, etc.

YZM: What do Gittel’s memories—narrated from some future point in her life—add to the story?

JY: I wanted readers to have the sense that at least one of the main characters makes it through, though the others’ fates are unclear until near or very near the end. It gives the readers a bit of breathing space.

YZM: What do you hope readers will take away from Mapping the Bones?

JY: That along with death, horror, sacrifice, there was also hope, faith, honor, courage, love. And, of course, memory.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.  

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