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For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

Source: Bethany House and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 432 pages
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For Such a Time by Kate Breslin is a WWII novel set in 1944 Czechoslovakia at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, a Jew work camp where many died from malnutrition, disease, or beatings, that acted as a stopgap for some Jews before reaching Auschwitz.  A miracle saves the life of Hadassah Benjamin from a Nazi firing squad, but the once blue-eyed, blonde finds herself in the middle of a hornet’s nest and forced to live under the assumed name of Stella Muller.  With her shorn locks, she ends up wearing a red wig and is given luxurious clothes, a warm bed, and food as SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt’s secretary.  With biblical quotes of Esther’s story, the parallels are unmistakeable between Stella’s struggles and that of Esther, with even Stella’s uncle bearing the same name as Esther’s cousin, Mordecai.  While the short quotes before each chapter are not strictly necessary to the story, it does offer some basis for the story Breslin is telling and for the strict moral grounds that Stella attempts to adhere to.  As a Jew who feels abandoned by God, it is interesting that she would turn to the bible and the tales a school friend of hers once told her, but her ability to connect with the bible demonstrates the transcendence that good morality can have no matter what religion, especially when she forces herself to break with Jewish traditions in order to remain concealed.

“Stella forced herself to look in the mirror.  Hadassah Benjamin, a Mischling, half Jew, bursting with a young woman’s exuberance, had ceased to exist.  In her place stood Stella Muller, subdued Austrian bookkeeper and suitable stock for the Third Reich.  A frail disguise comprised of no more than a scrap of official-looking paper, a red wig, and beneath her bruises the inherent fair features of a Dutch grandmother.”  (page 49-50)

Aric von Schmidt is the real enigma in this novel — a Nazi that does not hesitate to follow orders, but who still feels affection for Jews in his household.  He’s a man broken by WWI — literally, emotionally, and physically — and although he begins to see the devastation around him, of which he has played a significant part, it is hard for him to reconnect with his humanity without seeing how it would hamper his duties and possibly result in his own death or punishment.  Although he softens with Stella’s guidance, he’s still torn inside as he struggles to balance what he knows is right and what his orders are under the government he serves.

As the war nears its end and the final solution is called for by the Reich, the pressure is on for Stella, her uncle, and young boy named Joseph.  Breslin has crafted a poignant novel about the end of a war that had everyone concerned about their own safety, even the Nazi officers carrying out horrific orders.  She manages to humanize some of these monsters, and while we are not expected to completely forgive these men, it is clear that their decisions were based on their own demons and inabilities to sacrifice themselves for the good of others — a strength that few can muster in times of crisis when saving their own skin is a viable option.  For Such a Time by Kate Breslin is a stunning debut and would make a great book club selection given the moral issues and the emotional impact of the decisions these characters face.

About the Author:

A Florida girl who migrated to the Pacific Northwest, Kate Breslin was a bookseller for many years. Author of several travel articles, award-winning poet, and RWA Golden Heart finalist, Kate now writes inspiring stories about the healing power of God’s love. For Such a Time is her first book. She lives with her husband and cat in Seattle, WA.

Connect with Kate on her website and on Facebook.

10th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

 

 

8th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; It is set in Czechoslovakia.

 

 

 

 

 

13th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

21st book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #262

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has gone through a few incarnations from a permanent home with Marcia to a tour of other blogs.

Now, it has its own permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1. For Such a Time by Kate Breslin for review in May with TLC Book Tours.

In 1944, blonde and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz. Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy. Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon.

2.  A Dangerous Age by Ellen Gilchrist from Algonquin unexpectedly.

“A Dangerous Age” tells the story of the women of the Hand family, three cousins in a Southern dynasty rich with history and tradition who are no strangers to either controversy or sadness. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, the novel is a celebration of the strength of these women, and of others like them. In her characteristically clear and direct prose, with its wry, no-nonsense approach to the world and the people who inhabit it, Gilchrist gives voice to women on a collision course with a distant war that, in truth, is never more than a breath away.

3.  Acts of God by Ellen Gilchrist from Algonquin unexpectedly.

Critically acclaimed writer Ellen Gilchrist, winner of the National Book Award, returns with her first story collection in eight years.In Acts of God, master short story writer Ellen Gilchrist has crafted a collection that takes us into eleven scenarios in which people dealing with forces beyond their control somehow manage to survive, persevere, and even triumph.For Marie James, a teenager from Fayetteville, Arkansas, the future changes when she joins a group of friends in their effort to find survivors among the debris left when a tornado destroys a neighboring town. For Philipa, taking control of her own fate is the greatest act of courage she can imagine, and the most difficult. For Eli Naylor, left orphaned by a flood, there arrives the understanding that out of tragedy can come the greatest good. In one way or another, all of these people are survivors who find the strength to go on when confronted with their own mortality, and they come alive in these stories, told with clear-eyed optimism and a salty sense of humor.

4. The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor from HarperCollins’ William Morrow for review.

Inspired by true events surrounding a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on the maiden voyage of R.M.S Titanic, The Girl Who Came Home is a story of enduring love and forgiveness, spanning seventy years. It is also the story of the world’s most famous ship, whose tragic legacy continues to captivate our hearts and imaginations one hundred years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with such a devastating loss of life.

In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity – including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey – Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon.

What did you receive?