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Those Who Save Us Hardcover – April 5, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 1,431 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 482 pages
  • Publisher: Adult; 1 edition (April 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010196
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,431 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #534,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jane Roper on April 19, 2005
Format: 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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Format: 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.
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Format: 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).
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Format: 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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