My Enemy’s Cradle
About the book:
Cyrla’s neighbors have begun to whisper. Her cousin, Anneke, is pregnant and has passed the rigorous exams for admission to the Lebensborn, a maternity home for girls carrying German babies. But Anneke’s soldier has disappeared, and Lebensborn babies are only ever released to their fathers’ custody–or taken away.
And then in the space of an afternoon, life falls apart. A note is left under the mat. Someone knows that Cyrla, sent for safekeeping with her Dutch relatives, is Jewish. She must choose between certain discovery in her cousin’s home and taking Anneke’s place in the Lebensborn–Cyrla and Anneke are nearly identical. If she takes refuge in the enemy’s lair, can Cyrla escape before they discover she is not who she claims?
Mining a lost piece of history, Sara Young takes us deep into the lives of women living in the worst of times. Part love story and part elegy for the terrible choices we must often make to survive, My Enemy’s Cradle keens for what we lose in war and sings for the hope we sometimes find.
About the author:
Under the name Sara Pennypacker, SARA YOUNG has written seven books for children, including the acclaimed Stuart series (Stuart’s Cape) and Clementine. She lives on Cape Cod.
Click here to download the reading guide for My Enemy’s Cradle.
1. Cyrla is half Jewish and half Dutch, and grew up in Poland, but she often feels out of place no matter where she is. Does her sense of identity and nationality change throughout the novel? How does her personal struggle reflect the broader issues of identity that Europeans faced as the Germans continued to invade other nations and worked to replace each country’s sense of nationalism and heritage with their own?
2. Cyrla states that when she moved to Holland her family members “denied the Jewish half” of her. How does this affect Cyrla’s own attitude toward her religion? How does she retain this part of her heritage even though she can no longer observe religious holidays? How does the fact that Cyrla needs to hide her religion affect her relationship with Isaak?
3. Cyrla’s father tells her that he is sending her to Holland so that she can find her late mother’s place in her life. What distinction does the novel draw between families drawn together via their maternal relations versus the single-sided importance of the paternal bloodlines in the Lebensborn? Compare and contrast the different models of motherhood exemplified by Anneke, Cyrla, Aunt Mies, and the women at the Lebensborn. How does the attitude of the mothers from occupied countries differ from that of the German mothers?
4. Cyrla and Anneke look so alike that Cyrla can pass for her cousin at the Lebensborn. What other traits do the girls have in common? What is different about them?
5. When she tries to convince Isaak one last time to flee to England with her, Cyrla accuses him of being heroic to avoid being brave. Do you think there is a difference between heroism and bravery? Why or why not? Give examples of each from the novel.
6. The author offers the meanings of the names of several characters in the novel. How well do these names suit the characters to whom they are given?
7. As her departure date for the Lebensborn approaches, Cyrla observes that joy is something to steal. How do the characters in this novel steal joy despite the dark realities of World War II?
8. On page 26, Cyrla reflects on the stark contrast between boy soldiers who miss their sisters and long to sit in cafés with girls and the men who force young Jewish girls to wrap filthy latrine-stained blouses around their heads. The roles that men play in times of war are complicated, and the roles of men in this novel are no different. Compare and contrast the different models of manhood exemplified by these characters.
9. The Germans are portrayed as being as methodical about reproduction and birthing as they are about everything else in the war. Describe life at the Lebensborn—how does it compare to methods of animal husbandry or the operation of factories? What purpose does this serve for the Germans? For the novel?
10. On page 221, Cyrla wishes that her friend Leona’s infant son—and all the infants, by implication—will somehow escape “the poison of abandonment that tightens hearts into knots.” Which characters in this novel have been abandoned? How has abandonment affected them? How does the historical information given in the Author’s Note affect your understanding of this theme?
11. Cyrla finds herself torn between two men, both of whom seem unavailable to her, at least at first. What does it take for Cyrla to finally let go of one and give her heart to the other? How does wartime influence Cyrla’s realization and expression of sexuality? How does it affect the other female characters?
12. As an occupied people, the Dutch must choose to what extent they will compromise their own consciences in order to abide German laws. To what degree do Cyrla’s uncle and Karl collaborate with the Nazis? Does toeing the line necessarily make one a collaborator? By contrast, what do several characters in this novel risk by defying the Germans in order to help one another? Why do they do it?
13. This story is told from Cyrla’s point of view. Do you think Cyrla is a reliable narrator? Identify moments where Cyrla’s interpretation of events does or does not match your own opinion of what is happening or what has happened.
14. During World War II, millions of men and women were shuffled from place to place by the Germans, or were forced to flee their homes for safety. Define Cyrla’s concept of home and describe how she carries this feeling with her in each new place she finds herself. Where does she ultimately decide “home” is, and why?