On My Bookshelf: Codename: Zosha by Yehudit Kafri

August 17, 2015

Codename: Zosha is a biographical novel details the life of Zosha Poznanska, a little known Jewish WWII heroine. It begins with her childhood in Poland an her involvement in the Jewish youth organizations there, follows Zosha to life on a kibbutz in Israel and her introduction to Communism, and ends with her involvement with anti-Nazi espionage.
This is a sponsored post. I received this product for free in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own.

Basic plot: This biographical novel details the life of Zosha Poznanska, a little known Jewish WWII heroine. The novel begins at the turn of the 20th century with Zosha's childhood in Poland. She grows up with two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister, and lives with her grandparents and emotionally distant father. Her mother is emotionally fragile and spends most of Zosha's life in a mental institution. As a youth, Zosha is active in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, which advocated the immigration of Jewish youth to Palestine to form kibbutzes. It is in Hashomer Hatzair that Zosha meets her first love, Fishek (who is also the author's father and it is the relationship between Zosha and Fishek that drives the author's desire to write this book).

Once Zosha travels to Palestine and joins a kibbutz, she realizes that this is not quite the life they dreamed of in the youth group back in Poland. Their living conditions are primitive, there is little work which means little money and little food, and she is most disturbed to learn that their land was basically taken from Arabs. She begins to be exposed to the ideas of Communism and eventually leaves the kibbutz to work for the Communist Party in Palestine and eventually in Europe.

As WWII draws near, the Communist Party's efforts shift to become anti-Nazi efforts and Zosha becomes part of the Red Orchestra, an espionage. While all of her assignments are not known, her final role was as an encryptor of messages transmitted to the Soviet Union. Zosha and the other individuals involved in the transmissions are discovered by the Gestapo and taken to prison, where Zosha spend the last nine months of her life leading up to her death, a suicide.

Why I liked it: So if you read that plot summary, you know that there is nothing cheerful about this book. Nothing. I also found the first half of the novel incredibly slow (likely increased by my lack of knowledge and interest in Zionism and Communism) and at times confusing because of the many names mentioned. The author also jumps between past and present, which is marked with dates, but at other times inserts her thoughts, feelings, and what she wishes she could have said into the past.

The pacing of the plot and my interest picked up as events drew closer to WWII. The espionage efforts are an angle I know little about and Zosha's complete commitment to the anti-Nazi cause is incredible. While her choices in romance through the novel are sometimes questionable, her courage and selflessness are unassailable. For a young adult fictional tale of WWII espionage, check out Code Name Verity.

Classroom application: Since the novel is incredibly long, I would not use it in the classroom except in excerpts. Its coverage of the Jewish Youth movement in Europe, kibbutzes in Palestine, and the Red Orchestra could be useful information in a history course.

Excerpts could also be used in a genre study of biographical novels. Students could read a section of the book and then consider where the line between fact and fiction stands. Students could brainstorm the types of sources the author would need to write that particular section of the novel and discuss how the author might have crafted the fictional parts.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Codename: Zosha for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:

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