"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: An adult woman uncovers her German heritage, finding that her mother was the mistress of a Nazi officer. 

What would I do to save my children's lives? Anything. I would do anything. So when Anna is forced down on a sagging bed and muffles her cries so she won't disturb her daughter playing in the other room, I had nothing but sympathy and support for Anna. And when Horst, the Obersturmführer, brings milk and meat each week for Anna's daughter, Anna welcomes him only as a way to keep her daughter Trudie alive, despite the dread and shame she feels.

This was a tragic and deeply-moving book, showcasing the horrors of the Holocaust, the secret shame of rape victims, and how the trauma of the past still affects us today. It's a well-written debut novel with sympathetic, whole characters and enhanced even further my understanding of that period of history.

The book opens as Trudy, a middle-aged professor of German studies at the University of Minnesota, is attending the funeral of her father. Jack was not her biological father, but the man who married her mother, Anna, and brought them from Germany to Minnesota, after the war.

A different section opens with beautiful, teenage Anna, back in Weimar, Germany, and how her life is slowly changing with the new anti-Jewish fervor. The book spends just enough time on each character so that even while you're engrossed with lovely Anna and her terror and deprivation, you're still worried about Trudy and her loneliness and anger.  The author cleverly refers to adult Trudy as Trudy and young Trudy as Trudie, reflecting both the German spelling and the American spelling.

Even though Anna does not fight back, the brutal scenes with whiskey, razor blades and scarves are nothing but rape, as you know that Anna has no choice. Her shame, her defiance to keep her child living, and the emotional strength required to not scar her daughter even further are laden with power and intensity.
"She has often told herself that she is not so badly off, really. Men of power have had mistresses since time out of mind, and it doesn't matter that none of the gaunt women who visit the bakery will look directly at Anna. At least she and Trudie are safe in a warm place with access to food, and she is earning her keep in ways both legal and illicit while at this very moment others are dead, dying, starving, having their eyeballs lanced and toenails pulled by the Gestapo, laboring with heavy machinery that crushes their fingers to nubs, standing naked in the rain, their children wrenched shrieking from their arms, being shorn, shot, tumbling into pits. It is really very enviable, Anna's prosaic little arrangements with the Obersturmführer."
There are many more fascinating important plot points that deepen the layers in this book. I won't give them away, but while this is a very good book, it's hard to read all at once. On her 23rd birthday, Anna asks the the Obersturmführer to spare 23 Jews, one for each year of her life. The reaction to her request is chilling. 

Every time I read a book about the Holocaust, I'm continually astonished that Mel G. and Mahmoud A. can still deny that the Holocaust occurred. Consider also Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. 

No comments:

Post a Comment