Friday, October 15, 2010

REVIEW: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

From Amazon: "For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American Soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald. Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life."

This novel alternates between telling Anna's story during the years of World War II and in present time as now grown daughter Trudy investigates Anna's past-a past Anna has refused to share. We meet Anna as a young girl in Germany. The country has been persecuting Jews for some time at this point and Anna views these events at a distance. Her father is a lower level member of the Nazi party and notices that things are getting much worse. When her father's dog almost chokes to death she rushes him to the nearest doctor who happens to be Jewish, something which is forbidden. Anna falls in love with him and when it becomes apparent that he is in imminent danger decides to hide him in an abandoned corridor in her house. Unfortunately, shortly after Anna discovers she is pregnant, her father discovers the hiding place and hands her love over to the Nazis for transport to Buchenwald. Anna is kicked out by her father and moves in with a local baker who is part of the resistance. When the baker's activities are found out she is executed and Anna's only hope of survival is to take up with the Nazi officer who runs the concentration camp in Buchenwald. She endures the unsavory appetites of this man and the contempt of her neighbors in doing so.

In the present, Trudy is dealing with the now elderly Anna who has recently lost her husband. In order to discover more about her mother's past she signs on to do a project through the university chronicling the experiences of German citizens during World War II. She conducts many emotionally draining and tense interviews and finally discovers what her mother went through during that time.

This novel was engrossing. I could not put it down in less than a day. There are a lot of novels that deal with the holocaust but not many that approach it from the point of view of what it must have been like for the Germans during that time. Some of the events in this book were very hard to read as German citizens who showed any kindness to Jews were also subject to the brutality of the Nazis. Like Anna, many were faced with starvation and had to do whatever they could think of to survive. I felt for Anna-losing her love and having to endure not knowing what happened to him in the camp and also having to submit to the Nazi officer or risk harm coming to herself and her daughter. On one hand she hates him on the other she forms an attachment to him as well. The stronger part of the book was definitely the telling of Anna's story but the parts taking place in present day were touching as well. I was wondering how the author was going to pull off revealing to Trudy what actually happened to Anna in Germany and still make it seem plausible and like the entire book, it was very well done. I think I will be recommending this book to everyone I meet. It is one of the best books I have read this year.

This book is from my own personal library

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