Thursday, December 31, 2015

Those Who Save Us

Book: Those Who Save Us
Author: Jenna Blum

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 of the past 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.-Goodreads

Review:  'Those Who Save Us' is a very interesting book. It's a WWII story told in alternating narratives. In present day we follow Trudy, a professor in her mid-50s who believes she is the daughter of an SS officer. Her mother has refused to discuss the war in any capacity. In the other timeline, we follow Anna during WWII. There are no quotation marks (takes a few chapters to get used to this) and there are graphic scenes involving violence and sex. This may not appeal to some readers. 

Like many books with different timelines, I found Anna's storyline stronger and more compelling. Anna, a beautiful, naive German girl, lives at home with her demanding father. She falls in love with a Jewish doctor and eventually hides him in their house. I'm not sure if that author's intent was to write Anna/Max as a 'true love' type of thing, but I didn't read it that way. I know Anna didn't view her relations with Max as rape, but it seemed (at least their first encounter) like rape. I also couldn't believe Max wouldn't suggest some sort of birth control, he knew she lived with her crazy Nazi father and he was a doctor. Max is eventually found and turned into authorities, while Anna, finding herself pregnant, flees her house and lives with a local baker. Anna eventually becomes involved in a resistance movement of sorts and finds herself as a mistress to the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald. 

Now, the Obersturmfuhrer. I initially thought this character would be someone to root for. A man who hates what the Nazi's are doing and does what he can to help the prisoners in secret. Nope-he's one bad dude. He has very few redeeming qualities although he does bring Anna and her daughter food and other misc items. Their twisted relationship is the longest Anna has with any male (other than her father) and she finds that she hates him and is ashamed of the way her body responds to him. Their scenes are graphic and disturbing. Anna relies on him and loves him in twisted sense-she is a definite victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Her story is heartbreaking. 

In present day, Trudy is interviewing non-Jewish Germans who lived in Germany during WWII. Her story wasn't as compelling as Anna's, but it was nice that she finally discovers her heritage at the end of the book. 

This is one of those books that stays with you and you can't stop thinking about. If you are a fan of WWII stories, you might like this one. 

Grade: 4/5

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