I know little about Ethel Greenglass/Rosenberg’s life other than “the big one” (you know that thing about her and her husband being spies for the Soviet Union). But who was Ethel Rosenberg? In Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems we see the woman from a child, to school girl, to a worker, to married woman, to finally the accused spy. We see her life, her hopes, her thoughts, her dreams, her love of singing and acting, her devotion to Julius Rosenberg, and of course, her political views. The poems are mostly short and sharp, and done in free form. Some are fanciful, with others feeling almost plain, but are anything but.
The main thing I am taking away from the Barbara Krasner book is that things were not black and white. Everyone who reads this will read something different for an outcome, but hopefully you will think, regardless if you see Ethel’s point or say she was wrong. I am writing this review not halfway finished with the actual reading and already I am wondering, “Was she just a woman over her head or did she know what she was doing?” Even though I’m only about 90 pages in (I am reading it via an online reader copy, though it is currently available), I have some questions: Did Julius Rosenberg groom her? Was she more traditional than she thought and wanted to be a housewife and mother and did not really want to go to college? Was she looking for a strong father figure in Julie? Was she just trying to get away from her overbearing, abusive mother? Was she just a naïve girl or a cunning woman?
The occasional photograph shows a wide range of Ethel’s life: the schoolgirl who once started school with paper in her shoes hiding holes in them, to a woman ready to take on the world, to the woman staring defiantly at the camera after being arrested (I skipped ahead, I’ve only gotten to Pearl Harbor and that is only Part I). There are many strong and good points being made. I can see why they would have gone that route. Especially Ethel. She was in the middle of workers’ rights strikes (organizing them, being beaten by thugs, showing support to others in their strikes), she saw the damage Japan was doing to the world (one poem talks about how Ethel saw Japan as “eating countries”), how Hitler’s politics could affect her (she and Julius were Jewish), how she believed fascism was wrong and how seductive Communism could be, especially with the draw of Julius behind it.
The publisher description says for ages 13 to 17, but of course adults should read as well. I’m waiting to see if there are afterwards and/or author notes to see how much of a fan Krasner is of the Rosenberg’s, as her book does seem to slant towards Ethel as a role model or perhaps even manipulated by her husband, or at least up to where I have read.