Book Review: My Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih @MandelVilar

My Real Name Is Hanna
Tara Lynn Masih
Mandel Vilar Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1942134510
Trade Paperback

Hanna’s daughter has found her dog-eared, marked-up copy of Joan of Arc. And, the girl has always admired the pysanky, lovingly displayed under glass. It is time to tell the story behind these truly treasured objects.

Hanna was a young girl in Ukraine, in the 1940s, when she considered herself to be Mrs. Petrovich’s assistant. Watching the competent, perpetually dyed hands create intricate designs on the fragile egg shells and listening to tales of her people who were once sun-worshippers, was one of Hanna’s favorite pastimes.

Her Jewish family was more reserved about the relationship. Parents were very specific about what Hanna could, and could not, do in the egg-coloring process. If the neighbor had not served as the family’s Shabbes goy, the partnership would not be permitted. As is, Mrs. Petrovich refuses payment for her duties such as lighting matches and locking the door on the Sabbat. Allowing Hanna to help her is fairest thing for the family to do.

For the first decade or so, Hanna lived a blessed life. Her Jewish family was a part of the community. That couldn’t be said everywhere. But things changed. Under Comrade Stalin, Hanna was disheartened to learn that Passover traditions would have to be hidden. The blow was somewhat softened by the knowledge that Catholics were forced to gift pysanky in secret as well.

As Hitler’s German troops began to conquer larger areas and draw closer, rules and revisions become more targeted. The butcher can no longer sell kosher meat. Ration cards are glaringly disproportionate, with Jewish families receiving ridiculously small portions.

Hanna’s family realizes that, if they are to survive the German invasion, they must literally run for their lives. With meager few possessions, extended family and some neighbors, they were able to remain undetected in a couple of abandoned shacks, deep in the woods.

The Germans learned that there were many Jewish people hiding in the forests, forcing the small group to take to the caves. With the only exceptions of men leaving, as needed, for provisions, life was spent entirely underground until, at long last, word reached them that Germany had finally been beaten. For the few remaining Jews, they may be free to show their faces and embrace their beliefs, but their lives were irrevocably damaged.

My Real Name is Hanna is a Historical Fiction account meant to mesmerize Young Adult readers. Ms. Masih more than succeeds by allowing Hanna’s calm, matter-of-fact, yet not unfeeling, voice tell the terribly true story of an inarguably horrific period.

The family featured in the book is fictious, but real survivor Esther Stermer’s family, along with four others, actually survived the invasion of the Wehrmacht by living in two underground caves. The women and children were underground for more than 500 days. I’m so stoked that their survival story is finally being shared. I cannot wait to introduce this humbly heroic historical tale to “my” students.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2021.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books,
with huge thanks for the Advance Review Copy
to donate to my favorite classroom library.