Review: Irena’s War by James D. Shipman

Title: Irena’s War by James D. Shipman
Publisher: Kensington Books
Genre: Historical, WWII, Fiction
Length: 342 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Based on the gripping true story of an unlikely Polish resistance fighter who helped save thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, bestselling author James D. Shipman’s Irena’s War is a heart-pounding novel of courage in action, helmed by an extraordinary and unforgettable protagonist.

September 1939: The conquering Nazis swarm through Warsaw as social worker Irena Sendler watches in dread from her apartment window. Already, the city’s poor go hungry. Irena wonders how she will continue to deliver food and supplies to those who need it most, including the forbidden Jews. The answer comes unexpectedly.

Dragged from her home in the night, Irena is brought before a Gestapo agent, Klaus Rein, who offers her a position running the city’s soup kitchens, all to maintain the illusion of order. Though loath to be working under the Germans, Irena learns there are ways to defy her new employer—including forging documents so that Jewish families receive food intended for Aryans. As Irena grows bolder, her interactions with Klaus become more fraught and perilous.

Klaus is unable to prove his suspicions against Irena—yet. But once Warsaw’s half-million Jews are confined to the ghetto, awaiting slow starvation or the death camps, Irena realizes that providing food is no longer enough. Recruited by the underground Polish resistance organization Zegota, she carries out an audacious scheme to rescue Jewish children. One by one, they are smuggled out in baskets and garbage carts, or led through dank sewers to safety—every success raising Klaus’s ire. Determined to quell the uprising, he draws Irena into a cat-and-mouse game that will test her in every way—and where the slightest misstep could mean not just her own death, but the slaughter of those innocents she is so desperate to save.


Based on a true story, Irena’s War by James D. Shipman is an interesting yet poignant novel set in Poland during World War II.

Irena Sendler watches in horror as the Nazis march into Warsaw in 1939. She is a social worker who has been distributing food and supplies to those in need.  After the Nazi invasion, Irena wrestles with her conscious when Gestapo agent Klaus Rein offers to allow her to continue her job. Finally deciding to continue caring for her fellow citizens, Irena works long hours to secure food as it becomes scarce due to the war and occupation. After the Jewish population are forced to move into the ghetto, Irena turns her attention to helping her friends care for those living in crowded conditions with little food. After she becomes a resistance fighter, Irena risks everything to help the orphaned children in the ghetto escape when the Nazis begin sending the Jews to Triblinka extermination camp.  But, with a traitor in their midst, Irena must hurry to save a final group of children before time runs out.

With her estranged husband in a German POW camp, Irena lives with her bedridden mother. She has little patience with her mother and she resents the time it takes to care for her.  Irena is not a particularly likable woman but it is easy to admire her dedication to helping those in need. She is deeply devoted to saving as many people as she can and she does not hesitate to take risks to help them. Irena is impatient and easily frustrated when things do not move as quickly as she would like. With Klaus Rein closing in on her operation, Irena’s rescue operations are becoming increasingly dangerous to her and those assisting her.

Irena’s War is a well-researched novel with highlights the heroic and tireless work of the Polish resistance and Irena Sendler during World War II. The storyline is engaging but the pacing is a little uneven. Irena is a difficult person to like initially but as the story progresses, she becomes less abrasive. James D. Shipman shines a much needed light on this incredible story of Irena Sendler and the resistance group, Zegota.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (30s), Historical (40s), Irenas War, James D Shipman, Kensington Books, Rated B, Review, World War II

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