Gwen Strauss's narrative nonfiction debut, The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany, reconstructs the daring escape of nine female resistance fighters in the grim final days of World War II. One of those resistance fighters was Hélène Podliasky, the author's great-aunt, who was considered the leader of the band of women. Chapters center on each woman in turn, using Strauss's research not only to trace their paths to resistance, capture and imprisonment in Germany's nightmarish labor camps, but to resurrect their characters and personalities. What results is an improbable story of escape and survival thanks in large part to the bonds forged among these courageous fighters.
The Nine begins with the women's escape from a death march overseen by the SS and the start of their long, dangerous journey across Germany toward the American lines. The women were in desperate condition after months of back-breaking labor in an offshoot of the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. Hungry and weak, they used their wits and language skills to cross the German countryside and procure food and shelter for themselves. In many cases, the nine were able to use the Germans' fondness for bureaucracy and official documents against them, though they had some harrowing close calls. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the women's journey sometimes has the air of an incredible adventure story, with them sardonically comparing their journey with a camping trip. The Nine is not only a gripping narrative, but a powerful tribute to women who should be remembered as heroes. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader