Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

The funeral is well attended, the New Heidelburg Lutheran Church packed to capacity with farms and their families who have come to bid farewell to one of their own. ~ Opening of Those Who Save Us 



Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Harcourt Books, 2005
Fiction (Historical); 479 pgs
Source: I purchased my own copy at Borders in November of 2007.

Goodreads Summary: 
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.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

When I heard about the read-along hosted by Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit) and Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) over at the War Through the Generations Challenges blog in June, I jumped at the chance. I had long wanted to read the book, but kept putting it off.

Novels dealing with the Holocaust are sure to be emotional reads given the subject matter. I have read many over the years, and my heart breaks to pieces every time. How can human beings be so cruel to other human beings? How could anyone stand by and let this happen? It is easy, in hindsight, to list the "should haves" and "if onlys", and to cast blame on those who seemingly did nothing. I admit it has been my curiosity to understand this that has led me to read several books that broach the subject.

Those Who Save Us came highly recommended and for good reason. Jenna Blum paints a very vivid and true to life history of what life may have been like in Weimer during World War II. The concentration camp, Buchenwald was within sight of the town.

Trudy is a history professor of German studies, divorced, and somewhat estranged from her mother, Anna. Anna is closed off from the world, shutting the door tightly on her past, and, as a result, unable to get too close to those in her life even in the present, including her daughter, Trudy. Trudy, for her part, has given up trying to reach out to her mother, but she still longs to understand her mother and why she is the way she is.

A photo from her childhood raises a lot of questions for Trudy. It is of her mother, herself and a Nazi Officer. Could that be her father? What role did her mother play during World War II, if any? Trudy is both afraid and eager to find out her mother's story. Only, her mother will not talk about it.

Through interviewing Germans who had been living in Germany during World War II, Trudy hopes to find some sort of answer--or perhaps some sort of reconciliation for her own guilt through association. She had been a toddler when she left Germany with her mother and her mother's American husband, Jack. Her memories of that life are few and far between.

As Trudy tries to come to terms in the present with her own feelings about her mother, and caring for her mother who has since moved in with her, the reader gets a glimpse into the past through Anna's memories. Anna struggles with her own feelings of guilt and shame over the past. Pregnant, she ran away from home and moved in with a widowed baker in Weimer. Anna's story is one of heartbreak and suffering. She did what she had to in order to survive and to keep her daughter safe.

I really felt for Anna who was in a very difficult position. I personally feel she had nothing to be ashamed of, but we are often our own worst critics, aren't we? Could she have made different--even better--decisions than she did? It's hard to say, given the circumstances. I truly did not like the Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald. He used his position and power to intimidate and get his way. I don't think he saw himself that way though, which, in some regards, makes him all the more dangerous.

Anna's closing off of herself has had a big impact on Trudy as she was growing up and continues to influence her now. It really got me thinking about how our actions and behaviors affect those around us. Anna is only trying to protect herself and Trudy from those painful memories, and yet she ends up hurting Trudy in a different way. This comes out a lot in the novel in the various relationships described.

Author Jenna Blum did quite a bit of research for the novel, and it shows in the detail and characters she's created. This was not an easy book to read at times, the subject matter being what it was. As a mother, I could relate to Anna, and as a daughter, I could relate to Trudy. I saw a bit of myself in both of them. I wanted so much for them to talk openly, to share their stories with each other. Both women, however, are quite stubborn.

My only really complaint is that I was hoping for more in regards to the ending. I do not expect a perfect bow wrapping up everything, especially from this type of novel, but the ending for this one felt too open ended. I would like to have had a bit more resolution.

Overall, I liked Those Who Save Us and find myself thinking of it long after having finished it. Thank you to Anna and Serena for finally motivating me to read this one!


You can learn more about Jenna Blum and her books on the author's website. She can also be found on Twitter.

© 2017, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

14 comments:

  1. This sounds excellent, though the open end is giving me pause. Endings that are too pat can feel overly forced, but if it's too open, it doesn't feel like the story has ended (in a bad way...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eustacia - That's I feel about endings as well. With this one, even with the ending, I think this one is worth reading. I really enjoyed it.

      Delete
  2. I love the cover. Books that keep you thinking after you finish (even if you have some qualms about the ending) are always interesting. I prefer more tied up conclusions, but maybe that uncomfortable feeling about the resolution is part of what keeps the book on your mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jenclair - I am glad I was able to read this with a couple of others as this one made for a good discussion book. We all pretty much agreed about the ending.

      Delete
  3. Books that stay with you like that one has are something special. I need to get this book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - I think you would like this one, Kathy.

      Delete
  4. This sounds so good! I have had this book sitting on my kindle for more than 5 years. It sounds like it may be time to get it on the reading schedule.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carole - It is good. I am glad I wasn't the only one who had had this one awhile before picking it up to read it. I hope you do like it when you get to it!

      Delete
  5. Sounds like both an interesting and an emotional read. I'd definitely prefer to have a clear closure in the end and while some books work with an open ended closure, I'd like to have a definite resolution in books like this one. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention, Wendy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melody - Yes, it was. There was some resolution to part of the novel, just not as complete as I would have liked, I'm afraid. Maybe the author was going for realism?

      Delete
  6. Anything about concentration camps gives me nightmares.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ellen - I can understand that. It was a terrible time in our world's history.

      Delete
  7. I'm fascinated by this time period and setting as well. This does sound interesting and it's fascinating to see how the past affects the present. I'm curious about Trudy's and Anna's stories so this is definitely going on my TBR. I do wish the ending was a little less open ended. I like some resolution in my stories - especially in such an emotionally charged read as this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katherine - I am glad I finally read this one. While I think there was some resolution at the end, the part of the story I felt needed it the most didn't have any. I am still glad I read it.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to visit Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Don't be shy! I would love to hear from you. Due to a recent increase in spam, I will be moderating all comments for the foreseeable future. Please be patient with me as it may take a few hours before I am able to approve your comment.