The Winter Rose
by Melanie Dobson
reviewed by Mary Hansen
Melanie Dobson displays great skill in this piece of historical fiction, The Winter Rose (2022). Most of the story takes place during World War II and the postwar era, but it also leaps forward to 2003, when some of the characters are portrayed in matured aspects and in new settings. Dobson displays a firm understanding of the coping behaviors and resilience of traumatized children. All of the characters in this book are drawn with incredible depth, as are descriptions of Quaker experience.
A young Quaker woman shepherds a group of Jewish children through occupied France, into a fragile safety in Spain. She then takes some of the children to settle in the United States. Due to unforeseen circumstances, she and her husband come to care for three of these children. The next few years are filled with growth and dynamic changes for all. The horrors and deprivation that the young children experienced during wartime, their subsequent ways of coping with trauma, and the less-than-perfect process of resettlement – these lead to misunderstanding and tragedy, then eventually to reconciliation.
At the center of this story is a preadolescent boy who believes he has killed an enemy in Europe. This forces him into a maturity that he is unready for. He and his younger sister are two of the children who are relocated to the U.S. and eventually to Oregon. There, the boy becomes involved in an incident that he perceives as an unspeakable act, and he fleas across the country, taking assumptions of guilt along with him. What he believes he has done and what actually occurred are not the same. But he lives with his guilt for decades and loses contact with his sister.
Woven through this story is the journey of a woman in the early 21st century, who is trying to find a bone marrow match for a man who mentored her through her adolescence. She uncovers secrets and finds people who were thought to have perished during the war.
The Winter Rose is an amazing tale of people learning to cope with tragedy – displaying resilience and incredible creativity. It is also a tale of Quakers who followed their leadings faithfully.
Mary Hansen is a member of Bellingham Friends Meeting (NPYM).