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Those Who Save Us
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on November 6, 2016
Jenna Blum does a masterful job writing about an intriguing but rarely explored topic: the experiences and long-term impact of the lives of everyday Germans during World War II. Blum uses a literary device that generally does not appeal to me; she goes back and forth in time throughout the novel. However, in doing so, Blum enhances the storyline as each chapter slowly ties together to build the story of Anna, a young German woman who falls in love with a Jewish doctor, a member of the German Resistance, and secretly hides him in her home after the Nazis come to arrest him. When her father, a businessman tight with the higher Nazi echelon, discovers her lover and turns him over to the Nazis, Anna runs away from home and finds shelter with a female baker she knows is also a part of the Resistance. Anna becomes the baker's apprentice and gives birth to the daughter of her lover, now imprisoned in a famous German camp just outside the town. The rest of the story describes Anna's efforts to survive the war and provide safety and security for her daughter, Trudy. Fifty years later, Trudy, now a professor of German History, struggles with a difficult relationship with her mother, and becomes involved in a project collecting the stories of German's who lived through the war. Blum slowly and delicately brings the two threads together with surprising and poignant results. This is an amazing book and a must read. Rarely does a novel provide so much significant food for thought and touch on aspects relevant to all of us as we go about our daily lives living for today without thinking of the historical consequences of our everyday acts. I highly recommend this book.
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on June 3, 2017
I must admit, this was a hard book to read. It reminds me of The Nightingale and Winter Garden, and what some of the women victims in WWII Europe endured to survive for their children during WWII. Some became true survivors and able to make new lives and others just survived. This is a book of a woman who tried to do both, but was not able to 'move on.' Sadly, her mental and physical torture to survive caused her to keep it inside and hold in the legacy of shame instead of sharing her story with her daughter and husband. Not sharing her story was her choice, but what a tragic choice.
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on September 20, 2017
One of those rare books you come across that becomes part of the fabric of your own life as it unfolds. A fascinating novel, nay history, that charms with the grittiness of its love and brutality, taut as a well-tuned violin string with its underlying tension of survival against the odds of a forlorn hope. Characters who aren't characters, but who become friends and colleagues - I didn't want it to end.
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on May 8, 2015
I find it surprising that four of the most compelling novels I have read recently have been about survival of civilians during WWII. I am obviously not alone in my reading preference, as two of these are among the top ten novels listed in my local paper. Why do such stories have such power? Is it that our consciences are so weak that our decisions must be black and white, the evil of the Nazis against the world? But even the Nazi world forces us into moral ambiguities, as described in this novel, a story of survival. The central character is Anna, a young woman in Nazi Germany in the early 1940s, caught between her love for a Jewish man and her fear of the Nazis. How does she save herself and the daughter of her love match?
The story is told in the time shift mode, shifting between the 1940s and 2009, as her daughter, a University of Minnesota Professor of German History, seeks to understand what her mother,s generation has undergone. It is also a story of faded memory, as the daughter also lived through this time, but only as a young child. Most important in several of these novels is the question of moral ambiguity. The WWII occupying regimes wanted all of their subject populations to be collaborators. If you resist, you die. Faced with this choice, Anna takes a colonel in nearby Buchenwald as a lover. How Anna and her daughter deal with these memories is the crux of this novel. This is not a new story, but it is told with sympathy and appealing characters.
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on July 7, 2015
This novel is one of my newest favorites in the category of historical fiction on the subject of WWII. How honest a look the author took on this impossible subject matter.
It is heart rending to try to imagine what those who were put through the gas chambers felt but this author's description is haunting.
I, for once, actually liked the way she moves you from past to present time as well. So often this is done through flashbacks and can become confusing and tiresome to the reader. This author clearly marks the date and time and the characters names at the start of a new chapter and it is important to the story to move such a way through time. But she does so seamlessly and with no confusion.
These characters are endearing or confusing or wretched but always what they should be and the ending gave me a wry smile and left me hoping these two FICTIONAL women would find happiness. Haha
I highly recommend this book.
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on March 21, 2017
Amazing book, couldn't put it down! Really a book that needs to be read! The horrors of war and the people's stories of what really happened should never be forgotten! History has always been whitewashed! We need to tell the truth to all future generations, not just a sugar-coated version! Especially, in light of the political shenanigans we're seeing right now!
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on February 11, 2018
A rich evocation of war time losses and demands, and choosing life but not denial of the war time’s deaths and disasters. I found it personally satisfying that the main part of the heroic choices portrayed were made by a woman, within her own life context and with a primary protective consideration for the safety of her only child, a safety which required the woman to also assure a possibility of her own survival.
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on September 13, 2015
This book was a fantastic read. I am hugely interested in any WWII literature and have begun to explore accounts told from the perspective of the Germans, especially the women who were left behind while their husbands, lovers, or other family went to fight. Blum has woven a magnificent story that toggles between Anna during the war years and her daughter, Trudy in the 1990s. Anna's story revolves around the circumstances of Trudy's birth and the lengths that she goes to to ensure that both of them survive the war. Trudy's story mostly deals with the emotional fall out that Anna's wartime decisions wrought. This is a story that really makes you think about what you would choose if faced with these circumstances. What would you do to save your own life and the life of your child while the world seems to be falling apart around you? Would you still risk everything to help those that are powerless even if getting caught means death to you and your child? This book is a fascinating study on human nature and a terrific read.
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on February 15, 2014
This book is now included on my all-time favorite reads list. Not a moment's hesitation giving it a 5 start rating. The story is heart wrenching. I have come to love books that go back and forth between the past and present. I have come to appreciate stories that reveal lives about those who lived in Europe during WW II. I thoroughly enjoyed Blum's writing style, i.e. the elimination of all the quotation marks used when people speak - instead, using "he said" or "she said" following character's comments. It makes the dialogues flow (and the reading process) much smoother.

There is just one poignant reference in the story - an interaction taking place between Anna and Jack - to "those who save us", referring to one of the characters. But oh, there are numerous saves in this book: Anna saves Max; Mathilde saves Trudy and Anna; the Obersturmfuhrer "saves" Anna and Trudy; Anna saves herself and Trudy; Jack saves Anna and Trudy. The title of this book could not be more perfect. And during that particular interaction: should Anna have chosen to tell Jack in the face of his anger the truth about Trudy's father, thereby moving Jack away from his suspicions about Anna's feelings for the Obersturmfuhrer?

The brief relationship between Trudy and Rainer was exquisitely told. Trudy's joy was palpable. I found myself hoping they would never part. What the Obersturmfuhrer does to Anna and the lifelong effect it had on her is one of the most dramatic examples of abuse I've ever read. I'd be curious to know others' take on the ending - I'm thinking and thinking about it - what does it mean? Is it a 'letting go' by Trudy? Fascinating. This is one of those stories that will stay with you always. Although I spent many nights reading till my eyes burned, wanting desperately to know what was coming next, part of me did not want this book to end. It was that wonderful.

Lastly, I must above all voice my amazement, my admiration at the beautifully written review by Bruce J. Wasser - it is far and away the best review I think I've ever read about a book. Be sure to read it - it was one of the reasons I chose to read this treasure.
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on January 29, 2017
The lives and struggles of the characters are established in the very first chapters of this well written journey through WWII. There was no joy in the lives of those who survived the Nazis. Scars that run through the souls of the survivors are invisible reminders of what transpired. People struggled for basic needs and a mere glimpse of hope in the smallest measure. A dinner roll was assurance that humanity existed somewhere.

The human spirit will survive if only to spite the oppressor.
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