Those Who Save Us

26Nov08

I just finished Jenna Blum’s novel, Those Who Save Us.  The book is two stories in one, telling the story of a mother, Anna and her daughter, Trudy.  The stories intersect, and we learn about Anna’s experiences as a German civilian in the town of Weimar in World War II, while in the other story, Trudy is trying to uncover details about her mother’s past which Anna has kept a secret from her daughter.  Anna buries her past, never disclosing her relationship and true love for a Jewish doctor, who is Trudy’s father, nor disclosing any information about the affair that she maintained with a Nazi soldier, in order to keep herself and her daughter alive.

Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum

Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum

Because of this burial of the truth, Trudy has lived her whole life not knowing the identity of her real father — she was born in Germany, and remembers little of her life there.  She and her mother left Germany for Minnesota, when her mother married an American soldier.  Trudy only knows that her mother has a photograph, picturing Trudy as a child, her mother and a German SS officer, who Trudy can only assume is her father.  Without discussing things with her mother, Trudy’s assumptions lay root inside of her, and she carries the burden that she might be the daughter of a Nazi.  Through Trudy’s studies of German civilians in World War II, she is able to uncover the truth about her mother.

A few reviews I have read said that it moved way too quickly at the end and tied up too neatly, but I don’t think that is actually so, at least not for me. I was impressed with how it all came together, and pleased that there wasn’t a huge catharsis for Anna’s character. She continued to live as she had in the United States and kept her own personal truth to herself. It was a relief (for me) to know that Trudy did learn about her own history, and to know that she didn’t have to bear the weight of thinking that her father was an SS Officer.

The one disclaimer I received before starting this book was that it was “very graphic” (says Marc), and I absolutely cannot disagree, but it is clear that the violence depicted was absolutely was necessary. I think it illustrated that the horrors of the Nazis affected everyone. I was particularly saddened by the scenes of starvation and hunger, in the camps and out.

I did love this book. I don’t think it’s for everyone, particularly people who might have a difficulty with stories of the Holocaust or with graphic violence, but it is an extraordinarily well-written book, and a complicated story of human struggle in times of desperation.

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