Sunday, July 24, 2016

Those Who Save Us

Author: Jenna Blum
Publisher: Harcourt Books, 2004
My Source: Amazon for Kindle

I have read several books about WWII this year. I became interested in this subject because my mother is a WWII buff who reads tons of books about the war. She and my father even went on a trip to Europe several years back tracing the path my grandfather took while he was stationed in the Army as a medic during the war. Although the books I have read are fictional, they provide glimpses into what life must have been like during wartime Europe.

Those Who Save Us is a mother-daughter story spanning the fifty years from wartime Germany to 1990's America. Anna, a young German citizen is the maid and cook for her strict widowed father during the years leading up to the war. As the war approaches she falls in love for the first time, but the relationship is doomed. Anna does some things she is not proud of to save herself and her three year-old daughter, Trudy, from the atrocities of war. They are liberated by an American soldier at the end of the war and move to the United States to start a new life with him. Anna vows to herself to never tell anyone about her experiences in Germany.

Trudy, influenced by her German heritage and a single photograph of herself and her mother with a high-ranking Nazi official, becomes a German history professor. Through her research into the experiences of the German people during the war, she uncovers the secrets her mother has been keeping for fifty years about what she did in Germany and about Trudy's biological father.

I found both mother and daughter to be intelligent, but psychologically immature characters. Trudy, for instance, is practically a loner after her marriage fails primarily due to her obsession with German history. In an effort to comprehend her mother's past experiences Trudy takes on a new research project interviewing Germans about their lives during the war. Ironically, Trudy never gets the opportunity to interview her mother, the one person she craves to connect with and understand better. Anna, curious about her daughter's project, but burdened by her secrets and permanently changed by the war, remains emotionally distant from her daughter.

The story alternates between the past and the present with descriptions so vivid I felt as though I was there. The author traces Anna's personality changes over time which explain her present behavior. Although quite fascinating, some of the passages about Anna's past are painful to read as Anna and Trudy struggle to survive wartime Germany. I found myself equally engaged in both stories of the past and the present.

Throughout the story I empathized with both characters and hoped for a heart to heart talk between mother and daughter, but by not including one, the author probably portrayed a more realistic depiction of someone of Anna's generation who lived through the war first hand. I know that my grandfather spoke very little about his time in the war both because people of his generation did not typically share their feelings and because it was just too painful.

This book would be interesting to WWII buffs and those wanting to learn more about that time period, but it not just a history lesson. It is also a character driven story about people with strengths and weaknesses that pulled at my heart strings.

Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives

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