‘It’s important to retain the humanity’: The Song of the Stork

Those who are fans of Charlie Brooker, and the Black Mirror series in particular, will know immediately which episode I’m referring to when I say the one about the ‘roaches’ (‘Men Against Fire‘).   I found this episode deeply troubling, not because it canvasses the potential brutality of the future, but because it evokes the present (the war on ‘terror’) and the immediate past – the holocaust.

Ary soldier holding machine gun
On the hunt in Black Mirror‘s ‘Men Against Fire’

This Black Mirror episode reverberated in my head as I read Stephan Collishaw‘s The Song of the Stork. There seemed many parallels between the book and Men Against Fire, sharing similar imagery (forests, ruined houses) and themes (brutality, empathy, survival).

Collishaw’s novel is set in the Suwalke Forest at the Polish/ Lithuanian border in the 1940s, just as Nazi Germany is rolling back the Russian Army.  As the German soldiers advance into this territory, they bring with them their genocidal assignment. Yael is at the centre of this story – a 15 year old Jewish girl who flukishly escapes the slaughter of her village by seeking sanctuary in the surrounding forest.  The novel traces her survival in the forest, her refuge with the village eccentric, Aleksei, and her collaboration with the Jewish partisans resisting the German advance.

The Song of the Stork is not a light read, but given it’s subject matter, it’s not bleak – and this is an important point of distinction between it and Black Mirror. The war and its atrocities are an evident backdrop but aren’t despairingly overwhelming.  There are splinters of hope, as well as moments of redemption. I spoke with Stephan about how he managed to steer this course, maintaining this balance between grim history and hope.