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378 of 388 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new take on the Holocaust
As other reviewers have said, this book is a real page turner. I absolutely tore through it, drawn in by the powerful storytelling and gripping plot.

What I liked most about this novel, however, was the new perspective it granted on Germany and Germans during the war. This is the side of the Holocaust that has been largely unexplored in literature until now --...
Published on April 19, 2005 by Jane Roper

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140 of 153 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unable to put this book down
I honestly could not put this book down. After each chapter, I took a moment to consider the story and the themes behind it. Many times, I had tears in my eyes; at other times I laughed aloud. I was sad to come to the end of the book and I've been thinking about the story ever since. I'm still undecided about how much I actually liked it. The story is compelling - it...
Published on June 14, 2009 by Scott D. Stephens


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378 of 388 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new take on the Holocaust, April 19, 2005
By 
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
As other reviewers have said, this book is a real page turner. I absolutely tore through it, drawn in by the powerful storytelling and gripping plot.

What I liked most about this novel, however, was the new perspective it granted on Germany and Germans during the war. This is the side of the Holocaust that has been largely unexplored in literature until now -- how ordinary German citizens confronted or ignored the crimes against Jews, while at the same time trying to ensure their own survival. There are no easy answers, of course, and the book does a good job of acknowledging that fact, while still hammering home the horrors of what happened.

Most importantly, it kept me thinking and questioning: if I were a non-Jewish German, what would I have done? A book that inspires that sort of reflection and thought -- while also providing a riveting, satisfying read -- is a rare treat indeed.
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225 of 234 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave, compassionate and usettling debut novel treats dangers of sequestered personal anguish, April 24, 2007
By 
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
"Those Who Save Us," Jenna Blum's courageous and chastening debut novel, investigates two themes that are at once profoundly historical and deeply personal. With elegant, fast-paced prose, Blum narrates a story that reveals the enduring impact of the Holocaust while bravely exploring the intergenerational transmission of trauma. The two damaged women who are the focus of the novel, a mother permanently ruined by the course of actions she pursued during the Holocaust and her daughter, ravaged by a sense of incomplete identity and derivative pain, travel eerily parallel paths. Both struggle with identity, grapple with ethics and lead isolated, unfulfilled lives. One willingly needs to obliterate the past; the other desperately requires the past in order to form a coherent sense of her present self. This triumphant novel enables the reader to see the world through both protagonists' eyes, to suffer their pain and to ask existential questions the answers to which may only result in more suffering.

The daughter of an officious, sycophantic lower-level Nazi lawyer, Anna Schlemmer violates the Reich's prohibitions against carnal relationships with Jews. The resulting pregnancy and her father's subsequent repudiation, occurring at the onset of World War II, force Anna to find a means of survival. Anna's decisions, and the long-term reverberations those choices engendered, compose one of the two interwoven strands of the novel. From her decision to involve herself in the resistance to her wrenching degradation at the hands of an SS officer, Anna's focus narrows. Despite a near complete loss of self-respect, she keeps her cherished daughter alive. This loss of conscience -- this descent into self-eradication -- teaches us a great deal about what occurs to good people when placed in an environment of unprecedented fear and brutality.

Anna's daughter, Trudy, lives a half century removed from her mother's ordeal, but knows literally nothing about her past. A "conspiracy of silence, a wall that Trudy could neither penetrate or scale" forbids her from her mother's past. Only a photograph of Anna, Trudy and a German military officer exists, and Trudy can only construct a flimsy artifice of her own story. She knows that Anna's American husband is not her "real" father, but knowledge of who is not cannot supplant the agony of not knowing who is. Divorced, alienated and terribly lonely, Trudy knows only her mother's repeated injunction: "The past is dead...and better it remain so." Ironically, as a professor of German history, Trudy strives to teach indifferent students about the very past that is utterly unknown to her on the deepest personal level.

Blum is at her best in depicting the awful hurt those who suffer transmitted trauma experience. For every indignity Anna suffered in the 1940s, her daughter relives in the 1990s. Deprived of stories, the fundamental building blocks of attachment between a parents and children, Trudy cannot know herself. Her mother's stony silence and absolute unwillingness to reveal the past -- and herself -- to her daughter are doubly isolating, removing the mother from the daughter and the daughter from her self.

The maelstrom of the Holocaust tears apart the world Anna knew and skews her ability to mother her young daughter, Trudy plods through live in a loveless, sterile environment, each day a drab duplicate of insufficient hopes and dwindling expectations. In Jenna Blum's capable hands, these two women emerge as archetypes of conflicted hopes, mangled dreams and beleaguered interpreters of the past. If stories serve as the trellis around which we twine ourselves in order to grow, "Those Who Save Us" underscores the dangers of struggling through life without the requisite support of knowledge of the past. This brave, compassionate and deeply unsettling novel emboldens us to remember and recount.
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153 of 164 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fast-paced and entertaining page-turner, January 2, 2005
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Hardcover)
I'm always on the lookout for historical literary thrillers, but there are so few good ones out there. Those Who Save Us, while certainly not marketed as one, really is a historical literary thriller in every way. And it's a terrific one indeed. Jenna Blum's writing style reminds me of David Liss more than any other writer.

Those Who Save Us is a real page-turner. At the end of each chapter, Jenna Blum left me hanging and wanting (no needing) to know what's next. Yes, I cared about the characters very much -- but like a great thriller, I was also drawn into the plot in a way that I couldn't let go.

OK, so the book is about choice and the backdrop of the horrors of the holocaust are terrible indeed, but I was expecting all that. What I wasn't expecting was that the narrative would be so fast-paced. It is quite an accomplishment for an author to deal with moral issues in history and entertain the reader at the same time.

So here's my two cents for Jenna Blum's literary agent: If you haven't already, I think you should consider marketing the mass-market paperback rights in the literary thriller category. This book should have a completely different cover, different marketing, different blurbs and different cover copy to appeal to people who buy books in airports and through Amazon's "thrillers" category. This is an entertaining book! Don't hide that fact!
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature That Saves Us, April 28, 2004
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Hardcover)
Review of THOSE WHO SAVE US, by Jenna Blum
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). I would say that all should--all MUST--read it because along with the pain and suffereing Blum portrays, she offers her readers the possibility of tremendous redemption from the intergenerational guilt that surviorship engenders.
An important message about guilt and redemption is at the heart of THOSE WHO SAVE US. While I don't think a parallel can ever be made between what the Jewish people and Germans such as Anna and Pfeffer suffered from the Nazis in WWII, Blum reminds us that suffering was pervasive, that there was a hefty pricetag attached to survival for all because it often involved some form of character degradation (whether one became an SS whore like Anna or a Frau Kluge type extorting valuables from the Jews and then turning her victims in anyway); from this a lifetime of torment followed. Blum captures the ugly reality of human desperation, what is oddly within the realm of the norm when the topic is war. That she has portrayed this from the German perspective elevates it to a universal quality of suffering that offers the possibility of universal expiation. Even someone as sinister as her Obersturmfuhrer in the novel can be tossed into the pot of war troubles and deprivations fomenting during this period in history that made it roil with atrocities.
Of all Blum's characters, I was most drawn to Anna and her steadfast adherence to keeping her past a secret. I loved when her daughter Trudy finally understood that her mother had a right to her silence, that it was an individual "choice." While I sympathized with Trudy's quest for the truth, it was really Anna's view that grabbed me by the softest underbelly of my recent experience with losing my mother and said: Hey! I have a right to secrecy, you know! It's MY life not yours! (Do we children ever cease to be greedy beasts, however old or grown up we become?) I wish to thank Blum for Anna's reminder to let such things as a mother's private matters (her pain?) pass into the dust with her if that was her wish.
History, itself, should never pass into the dust, however. This novel could easily be one of those rare historical works which will be vital reading for the generations coming up. For it is the descendents of WWII's survivor population (I include Jews AND Gentiles here) as well as everyone everywhere who will need a glaring reminder in the future of this war's particular brand of brutality. Kudos to Blum for not sanitizing the heinousness of war, and for so thoughtfully and graphically rendering fact into the most engaging fictional form.
Pauline Briere
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140 of 153 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unable to put this book down, June 14, 2009
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
I honestly could not put this book down. After each chapter, I took a moment to consider the story and the themes behind it. Many times, I had tears in my eyes; at other times I laughed aloud. I was sad to come to the end of the book and I've been thinking about the story ever since. I'm still undecided about how much I actually liked it. The story is compelling - it almost captures the complicated themes and emotions involved in this topic. The twists and turns in the plot make for a real page turner. The characters, however, are a bit lacking, and not quite fully developed.

Any book that screams when you put it down and stays in your thoughts well after reading it, is a solid work and worth reading.
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Maybe the worst WW2 fiction I've ever read, August 20, 2012
By 
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
I won't reiterate the plot here, since the product description and other reviews do that more than adequately. And, frankly, because I don't want to spend a lot more time on this book. I had high hopes for this story, but it was a disappointment. Actually, more than a disappointment. It was downright repulsive. I read a lot of Holocaust fiction and nonfiction, so it's not the subject matter. It's the author's focus on sadistic sex and shallow psychodrama, both of which trivialize the subject matter in a shameful way.

Anna's story was lurid and embarrassing. There was way too much detailed and lengthy description of Anna's sex life. Her sex life with Max just led to questions about why a physician wouldn't know better than to get Anna pregnant, especially in their dangerous circumstances.

But it's the descriptions of her encounters with the Obersturmführer that made my skin crawl. I couldn't help but think they felt like sick sadistic porn. I can't see how it served the story to retell how Anna would achieve orgasm in her coerced sex with him, including being raped with a pistol, when she didn't with Max. It was hardly necessary to include such a level of degrading detail to get the point across, unless the intent was to titillate. And even though that can't be the case, it certainly felt that way--over and over and over again. Truly repulsive and perverse.

Trudy was an uninteresting character, and her story--and Anna's--degenerated into a ridiculous psychodrama straight out of The Prince of Tides or Ordinary People. You know, the kind of story where the character has suffered a traumatic experience that haunts him/her and eventually is resolved by some revelatory event. Bah. This is dreck from start to finish.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars # 1 BOOK CLUB PICK, August 2, 2006
By 
Andi B (New Hampshire USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
If you read one book this summer, make it this one! When my book club chose THOSE WHO SAVE US, I wasn't totally on board. As an avid reader of historical fiction, I felt I'd reached a saturation point with Holocaust stories. But wow, what a difference one book makes. This author narrates the events of World War II from the perspective of a German woman, and I can't stop thinking about that character--Anna--and what she endured to save herself and her child, what I would have done in her shoes. I cried at the ending, which I never ever do. I dreamed about these characters! I'll be the first in line to buy Jenna Blum's next book.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't stop thinking about this FABULOUS book!, December 27, 2006
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
Everyone I've told to read "Those Who Save Us" has loved it as much as I did; it comes very highly recommended!

It is not your "typical" holocaust novel (if there is such a thing) and deeply explores those gray areas concerning the lengths people go through to survive and the choices we make that change our lives.

Shifting back and forth between Minneapolis in the late 1990's and Weimar during the war, this novel centers around a mother/daughter relationship, specifically, the Mother's actions during the war and the daughter's grappling to understand who she is and her family history. As a reader you'll feel horrified, moved, uplifted, angry, surprised and hopeful, amongst other emotions that truly run the gamut.

This book is phenomenally written- I hope to read more by such a talented writer!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex, exquisite exploration of humanity, guilt & survival, May 14, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Hardcover)
I had promised myself that after completing a dissertation that required me to unearth awful narratives of torture and pain from the Holocaust and apartheid South Africa that I would not pick up another book about these subjects again. It was simply too painful. But Ms. Blum's novel broke the silence for me.
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!
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars engrossing in the way that Danielle Steele is engrossing, July 22, 2010
This review is from: Those Who Save Us (Paperback)
In the beginning of the book, the Minnesota townspeople turn their backs on Anna and Trudy because...because... I don't know. The author does not convince me that there is a real reason. Hinting that the whole town (not even ONE person is nice to them?) would carry a grudge against Germans for nearly 50 years wasn't explanation enough for me.

Moving Anna to a nursing home is used as a way to move the plot to a point where Trudy is forced to take Anna home with her. But if--when Anna lives with Trudy--Trudy can leave Anna home alone for days at a time (she doesn't come home at nights during an odd love affair), and there is no mention of Anna needing medication or any kind of nursing assistance, Anna could have moved to an apartment of her own. No need for a nursing home. Especially no need for a room in the Alzheimer's unit of the nursing home. No nursing home would EVER put a self-sufficient person in that unit, even if it were the only single room available. The author does not make me believe this is reality.

Anna, in 1939 Germany, falls in love with Max. Again, the author fails to convince me of why Max loves Anna--surely he is too occupied with much more serious matters to fall in love with a pretty face. And why Max would be foolish enough to get her pregnant is beyond me. He is old enough and aware enough of the dangers to Anna that he would never risk it. Again, the author fails to convince.

At one point in the book, one of the Germans talks of "extermination." That word choice bothered me. We know that the upper echelons of Hitler's government used that word, but did anyone else? I wish I had marked the page when I read the word; I cannot find it now.

The ending was strange. Mr. Pfeffer knew more about Anna and Max and Trudy than seems likely. He knew who Max's girlfriend was, he knew that Max got her pregnant, he knew when Trudy was born. And he learned all this while he was in Buchenwald? Again, isn't Max smart enough to keep his mouth shut about something that would put Trudy in danger? Even in the camp, other prisoners could have used that knowledge to gain something for themselves. It wasn't as if all prisoners trusted one another or shared everything they knew.

And, good grief: the sex in this book! Many new authors make the mistake of thinking that sex is the best way to reveal character. Sex is sex and I can't think of any detailed descriptions of sex that don't remind me of sex scenes in romance novels.

And finally, the most believable parts of the book were the interviews. The lives of Anna and Trudy were thin gruel next to the meaty interviews--and that is probably due to the authors work interviewing Holocaust survivors. I do not particularly like to read fictional accounts of horrific events. Fictionalizing something so totally horrifying only trivializes it--turns the murder of six million Jews and a world war into an opportunity to write a story with sex in it.
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Those Who Save Us
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (Paperback - May 2, 2005)
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