EXCERPT and REVIEW
The Seven Year Dress
by Paulette Mahurin
Author Paulette Mahurin stops by today to share an excerpt from The Seven Year Dress. You can also read my review.
For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap.
One of the darkest times in human history was the insane design and execution to rid the world of Jews and "undesirables". At the hands of the powerful evil madman Adolf Hitler, families were ripped apart and millions were slaughtered. Persecution, torture, devastation, and enduring the unthinkable remained for those who lived.
This is the story of one woman who lived to tell her story. This is a narrative of how a young beautiful teenager, Helen Stein, and her family were torn asunder, ultimately bringing her to Auschwitz. It was there she suffered heinous indignity at the hands of the SS. It was also there, in that death camp, she encountered compassion, selfless acts of kindness, and friendship.
Written by the award-winning, best-selling author of His Name Was Ben, comes a story of the resilience of the human spirit that will leave you thinking about Helen Stein and The Seven Year Dress for years to come after the last page is shut.
At the beginning of November 1938, the United States was still reeling from Orson Welles’s broadcast of his adaption of H.G. Wells’s, War of the Worlds. I read in the newspaper that the radio show sent the nation into a panic. Americans thought that space aliens had landed on their home soil. While America was reeling from a fictional crisis, Germany was facing a real national disaster. That ominous feeling Max and I shared in his apartment a couple of months earlier was about to flare into an unimaginable nightmare.
On the 7th of November 1938, a German-born Polish-Jewish refugee, Herschel Feibel Grynszpan, entered the German Embassy in Paris and shot the German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath. He died two days later. Hitler was livid. He dispensed his close and devoted associate—the vicious Joseph Goebbels—to handle the situation. Goebbels, known for his deep-seated, virulent anti-Semitism from an early age, started the retaliation on all Jews in Germany. Goebbels gave a speech at a Nazi party meeting. It was in this speech that he told SS officers to use the SA to inflict violence on Jews, making sure the attacks appeared both spontaneous and instigated by the German people, not the SS. Jews were no longer safe; they were to be assaulted in the streets and synagogues. Jewish businesses throughout Germany were to be demolished. Goebbels’s retaliation for the murder of one German diplomat paved the way for Hitler’s pogrom, the annihilation of an entire population.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"Author Paulette Mahurin, via Helen’s story, pulls no punches in descriptions of the horror and human tragedy that befell not only the European Jews but also millions of other people whose 'crime' was that they were non-Aryan, elderly, sick, political prisoners, or disabled, and therefore, unfit to live. All in all, The Seven Year Dress is gripping, heartbreaking, but beautiful." ~ Carmen Stefanescu
"I am a big fan of Paulette Mahurin's books and The Seven Year Dress exceeded my expectations in every way. [...] The story is fiction and yet the historical facts are so well-researched that it felt like I was reading a true account. It is a powerful and unforgettable novel. The writing is articulate and uncluttered. I admire the title very much and feel it is brilliant and painfully poetic. Do not think you can read this book and remain unchanged." ~ Terri Lyndie
"This story is full of heartbreak and hope. It proves there are good people out there willing to help even in the darkest of times." ~ Alathia Morgan
"It is an addictive story, which the author did not coat with sugar. Instead she deftly led the me on a journey of love and hatred, and I learned a lot from a story that was confidently told and thoroughly researched. A five star thumbs up from me." ~ Bookcollecter
"It is a powerful story that will cause one to recoil in shock, to weep for the countless lives lost, to court speculation of what one’s own actions might be under such perverse and humiliating circumstances. And though there are bittersweet moments of tenderness in the death camp, Mahurin subliminally warns her readers not to get too attached, just as the prisoners themselves learned to be wary that trusting any show of kindness might result in heinous torture and a bullet to the head." ~ Christina Hamlett
The Seven Year Dress is historical fiction based on the true-life account of Helen Stein as told to the author. The story begins in the present day when Myra rents a room from Helen, who was once an inmate at a concentration camp. The only item in Helen's apartment that is vaguely personal is a framed swatch of material that is faded and stained. When she is finally ready to open up, Helen tells Myra her story.
Beginning in the early 1920s, Helen recounts the tale of her childhood, growing up as a Jew in Berlin with her best friend Max who, although Christian, is homosexual. Helen's story serves as a conduit to give us an insight into the inner workings of the Nazi regime and Hitler's rise to power. With Max taking on a senior clerical position with the SS, Helen becomes privy to information not available to the general public. Her account is full of foreshadowing which builds the suspense as, even though we know Helen will survive her ordeal, the question is: at what cost?
The narrative is full of minor details that bring the story to life. There are mentions of real-life people and situations, e.g., Albert Einstein, Jesse Owens, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and the broadcast of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. We are also given detailed accounts of the events of Kristallnacht and the atrocities committed in the concentration camps. And, of course, we discover the significance of the framed dress.
I wasn't sure about the story being told as a reminiscence to a third party but, by the end of the book, I could see what the author was trying to achieve. I also don't think the sexual descriptions are necessary, even though the author explains her reasoning at the beginning of the book. Despite these small issues, this is a moving tale of triumph over adversity and the resilience of the human spirit in the wake of unimaginable human tragedy. Her father's words, "Life is precious", are a constant source of hope and encouragement to Helen, as are the extraordinary kindnesses of fellow inmates in spite of their dire circumstances.
This is a story that will stay with you for a long time to come.
About the Author
Paulette Mahurin lives with her husband Terry and three dogs, Max, Bella, and Lady Luck in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.
While in college, she won awards and was published for her short-story writing. One of these stories, "Something Wonderful", was based on the couple presented in His Name Was Ben, which she expanded into the fictionalized novel in 2014. The first week out, His Name Was Ben, made it to top ten books sold in the Amazon Kindle store (topic: health/wellness/cancer). Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction of the year 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine.
The Seven Year Dress is on the Amazon Best Seller Lists in several categories: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Teens. Paulette Mahurin has been ranked as top author with most popular read for two of her books, The Seven Year Dress and To Live Out Loud (as of 8/9/16 ranked #58 in Historical Fiction and #87 in Literary Fiction).
Semi-retired, she continues to work part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County. When she’s not writing, she does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases, and involves herself, along with her husband, in dog rescue.
Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs.