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Those Who Save Us Paperback – May 2 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Blum, who worked for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, takes a direct, unsentimental look at the Holocaust in her first novel. The narrative alternates between the present-day story of Trudy, a history professor at a Minneapolis university collecting oral histories of WWII survivors (both German and Jewish), and that of her aged but once beautiful German mother, Anna, who left her country when she married an American soldier. Interspersed with Trudy's interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed anti-Semitism, Anna's story flashes back to her hometown of Weimar. As Nazi anti-Jewish edicts intensify in the 1930s, Anna hides her love affair with a Jewish doctor, Max Stern. When Max is interned at nearby Buchenwald and Anna's father dies, Anna, carrying Max's child, goes to live with a baker who smuggles bread to prisoners at the camp. Anna assists with the smuggling after Trudy's birth until the baker is caught and executed. Then Anna catches the eye of the Obersturmführer, a high-ranking Nazi officer at Buchenwald, who suspects her of also supplying the inmates with bread. He coerces her into a torrid, abusive affair, in which she remains complicit to ensure her survival and that of her baby daughter. Blum paints a subtle, nuanced portrait of the Obersturmführer, complicating his sordid cruelty with more delicate facets of his personality. Ultimately, present and past overlap with a shocking yet believable coincidence. Blum's spare imagery is nightmarish and intimate, imbuing familiar panoramas of Nazi atrocity with stark new power. This is a poised, hair-raising debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Family secrets of Nazi Germany are at the core of this powerful first novel told in two narratives that alternate between New Heidelberg, Minnesota, in the present, and the small town of Weimar near Buchenwald during World War II. Trudy is a professor of German history in Minnesota, where she's teaching a seminar on women's roles in Nazi Germany and conducting interviews with Germans about how they're dealing with what they did during the war. But her mother, Anna, won't talk about it, not even to her own daughter. Trudy knows, she remembers, that Anna was mistress to a big Nazi camp officer. Why did she do it? Was he Trudy's father? The interviews are a plot contrivance to introduce a range of attitudes, from blatant racism to crippling survivor guilt. But the characters, then and now, are drawn with rare complexity, including a brave, gloomy, unlucky rescuer and a wheeler-dealer survivor. Anna's story is a gripping mystery in a page-turner that raises universal questions of shame, guilt, and personal responsibility. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's been quite some time since I've read a novel that I had difficulty putting down, and I read a lot of contemporary fiction. Perhaps the toughest criticism Jenna Blum will face is that her readers will complain they couldn't get anything else done until the book was finished. Of course, the story is compelling all on its own--the German/German-American take on Nazi brutality and the whole experience of guilt and shame as survivors in their own right--BUT, there are many compelling stories and not all of them make a reader hunger for the next intelligent, unusual turn of phrase. The experience of reading such rich, vivid language--words that have the power to create a certain tangibility in place and character--is what distinguishes her novel from others I might also say are "page-turners." The prose is lush, here, palpable in a way that brought me inside each and every scene.
Given her topic, readers will do a significant amount of hand-wringing until the last page is turned (crying, gasping, cringing at the brutality). There's Horst's sexual shenanigans and then the violence aimed at children (Rainer's brother's murder and Trudy's German subject with the eye patch). Within my Jewish community I know many, many Holocaust survivors, their children and also their grandchildren; while all support the idea of keeping this kind of history alive through well-researched fiction and non-fiction, some shy away from actually reading about such things (too painful, especially for those who survived the conflagration themselves or who, like my husband, listened to parents crying out in their sleep with nightmares).Read more ›
Alternating between Weimar, Germany in the early days of World War II and the present day mid-American panorama of Minnesota, Jenna Blum gives us a vivid, though tortuous picture of the conflicts presented to Anna as she struggles to make sense of Third Reich atrocities against the Jews, and their insensitivity to the everyday hardships of non-Jewish German civilians.
As difficult a time as this is for Anna, a young woman who finds dangerous love in the person of Max, a Jewish veternarian, whom she hides from the SS in the home that she shares with her father, her situation is complicated by the discovery and incarceration of Max in the Buchenwald concentration camp, and the subsequent birth of Trudie, her daughter with Max.
The devasting emotional consequences that arise from Anna's having to choose between the safety of herself and her daughter, and the acquiesance to the constant, and often brutal, advances of the Obersturmfuher of Buchenwald are detailed with frightening detail that ultimately leads Anna, many years later, to conclude that "we come to love those who save us". Equally striking is the eventual realization by Trudie, through a combination of years spent doggedly pursuing the truths of this era and plain luck, of the true nature of her monthers distant deportment over the years since their migration to America.
This is a novel that reads like reality, and a "must read".
I could not stop turning the pages, wanting more and more of her painful, poignant insights into the complexities of human survival, guilt, and love. This story of two women who go to EXTREMES to survive SIMPLY is riveting. The way in which Ms. Blum delves into their psyches, their need for human contact in times of duress, the complicated decisions they have to make in order to survive, and their uncompromising wills is so compelling, so truly human, that I overcame my fears of engaging in another difficult story of WWII. I was, instead, transported by the universality of their stories in the specifics of their situation, the human within inhuman circumstances. Never once did Ms. Blum fall into sentimenalism or try to shock for shock's sake. Every scene, every moment, was carefully written, painted in its truth and density with masterful language and a keen eye and ear for her characters. This book was a profound, beautiful exploration of humanity. I reccommend it with passion. Kudos on a brilliant first novel, Ms. Blum!
Most recent customer reviews
Life during WW2 was very difficult for many people. A very engaging story of life during that time.Published 28 days ago by Kathy D
I have not read the entire book but skimming it, I look forward to a summer reading day.Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
The story sounded good, but the way it is written is not a pleasant read.Published 8 months ago by zen4ever
I loved this book. I was rather disappointed that she did not talk about her father,max,and the fact he was a Jew.Published 15 months ago by Kindle Customer
Enjoyed this book. Appreciated the character development and waiting for the past and present to reconnect.
Skillful writing but sloppy editing.