Linda Atkinson’s In Kindling Flame: The Story of Hannah Senesh, 1921-1944 recounts the cycle of a young Hungarian Jewish woman’s life against the backdrop of the events of the mid-1930’s through the end of World War II known as the Holocaust. Senesh is an insightful, talented, yet unsure young woman whose desire to become a writer is altered by the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the resurgence of anti-Semitism in her native Hungary and throughout Europe. The account documents her decision to embrace Zionism and to emigrate to Palestine. Senesh ultimately asks to take part in a rescue mission that will allow her to return to her homeland in order to help Jews escape and to rescue her mother and bring her to Palestine. Upon her return to Hungary via Yugoslavia, Senesh is captured and executed.
Atkinson organizes the book chronologically into three main parts. The first is 1935 to 1944, the period of Senesh’s adolescence in Budapest, emigration to Palestine, and training for a return to Adolf Hitler’s Europe to help organize resistance. The second is 1944, the year of Senesh’s return to Yugoslavia and Hungary as a member of a parachute team to collect intelligence, establish escape routes, and rescue Jews, culminating in her capture and execution. The third section is 1945 and after, which contains a brief history of those Jews, both victims and survivors, who resisted or bore witness to the Holocaust. Throughout the biography, Atkinson conveys to the young adult reader the larger historical record of Jewish resistance by interspersing specific events, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, with the personal experiences of her subject, Hannah Senesh.
In its description of a young woman’s search to understand herself and her place in the world, and the circular nature of her life’s journey from Budapest to Palestine to Hungary, In Kindling Flame imparts the quality of the classic quest or hero tale to Senesh’s life. Atkinson portrays that life through the use of excerpts from Senesh’s diary and correspondence and of the recollections of her mother, her brother, and members of her rescue team. Atkinson carefully places this individual life in the broader contexts of a Europe dominated by anti-Semitism that would culminate in the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, the Jewish homeland in Palestine. She does not, however, permit the setting to overwhelm the sensitively drawn picture of a young woman’s emerging maturity and search for the meaning in her life. The use of photographs, some of which depict Senesh’s personal life in Budapest and Palestine and others of which show the atrocities visited upon the Jewish population of Europe, visually complements the author’s presentation.
It is clear that Atkinson’s motivation in writing In Kindling Flame and the nature of the content itself are both highly emotionally charged. As she indicates in her acknowledgments, writing the biography of Senesh followed the example of those European Jews who resisted and recorded the events of the Holocaust. One of Atkinson’s primary...
(The entire section is 1269 words.)