Books & Literature

Book Review: Maya’s Dance, by Helen Signy

HISTORICAL FICTION: A powerful novel of survival, resilience and enduring love, based on an incredible true Holocaust story.

Incredibly well researched, written with admiration.
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Feature image credit: Nihal Demirci Erenay (via Unsplash)

Have you heard of Lucie Pollak-Langford? Although she has written her own memoir, it has been reimagined in Maya’s Dance.

During the Holocaust in Sawin Labour Camp, Jewish prisoners were partly supervised by Jewish Police and Polish Guardsmen, one of whom was Jan. In this place of despair, Jan and Maya fall in love, and Jan risks his life for Maya by helping her escape. The novel centres on Maya’s search for Jan, with the help of struggling journalist Kate Young, 50 years after the fact.

Using a series of letters written by Maya to Jan during her present-day search for him, and a series of flashbacks entwined with present-life moments, there are parallel stories of love: one in a modern context (Kate) and one from the past (Maya and Jan).

Using the interplay of parallel stories, the novel explores both modern-day and past perspectives on love, sacrifice, survival, and resilience. The profound love shared between Jan and Maya, where both risk their lives for one another, stands in stark contrast to the superficiality of modern-day relationships. This comparison intensifies the emotional depth of the story, echoing the sentiments found in other wartime novels where love triumphs over adversity.

It is absolutely clear that the author adored Maya as a person, portraying her character in a consistently positive light. As the only survivor of the Sawin labour camp, Maya is undoubtedly resilient, unique, courageous, and wise. She witnessed the brutal deaths of her family, friends, and comrades at the hands of a torturous commander, including the tragic demise of a local farmer who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Throughout it all, she endured relentless hunger, constant fear, freezing cold conditions, and hard labour building irrigation systems for the Germans.

Although Maya’s story is remarkable, the representation of her character is over idealised, which actually decreased the appeal for me. She is glorified to the extent that she appears beyond perfect, almost saintly during her suffering and survival, and in the life she led thereafter. This made the reading somewhat tedious at times.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent debut novel for Helen Signy, who has a background in journalism. As a journalist for academics, governments, and charities, we can be assured that the research undertaken for this historical piece of fiction is extensive and thorough. I enjoyed the approach Signy took in this novel as it explores May’s years post-war as a survivor, and as such spans her entire life.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: March 2024
RRP: $32.99

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