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Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 479 pgs.
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Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which was the readalong selection for June at War Through the Generations, is a complex story in which Anna Schlemmer has kept her activities during WWII in Weimar secret, even from her daughter Trudy. Although Trudy was a young girl during the war, she remembers very little and what she does remember often comes to her in snatches of dreams and makes little sense. She’s tried to pry the past out of her mother ever since finding a portrait of herself, her mother, and a Nazi SS officer in her drawer at their farm in New Heidelberg, Minnesota.

“It is one of the great ironies of her mother’s life, thinks Trudy Swenson, that of all the places to which Anna could have emigrated, she has ended up in a town not unlike the one she left behind.” (pg. 73)

Blum’s novel shifts from the points of view of Anna and Trudy and shifts in time from WWII to the 1990s, where Trudy has begun a project to interview Germans about their time during the war, as her colleague strives to save the stories of Jews who escaped the Holocaust. But this story begins with a young girl looking to get out from under her father’s thumb in Germany, as war is beginning to seem more likely. Anna falls for a young man, and their relationship is doomed from the beginning. What transpires from that love affair onward takes Anna on a journey into darkness where she is alone and very aloof, even from the local baker, Mathilde Staudt, who agrees to take her in.

“It is as though Trudy has reached under a rock and touched something covered with slime. And now she is coated with it, always has been; it can’t be washed off; it comes from somewhere within.” (pg. 185)

Anna’s silence looms large over Trudy’s life, and it has foisted guilt upon her for a time she barely remembers and a man she suspects is her father. Her guilt is compounded by her mother’s unwillingness to talk about the past and the death of her stepfather, Jack – a former WWII soldier for America. Along the way, Trudy meets an older man who is half Jewish, Rainer, and she begins to see that her happiness does not have to be tied to the past.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum explores generational guilt and the effects of war atrocities on those who did not commit them but were considered just as guilty as those with whom they associated. Blum’s research is impeccable and her understanding of the guilt and horror of the Holocaust and WWII emerges in the characterization of Anna, Trudy, and so many other secondary characters. Readers will be submerged alongside Anna as she struggles to survive for herself and her child, doing things she would prefer not to. She is forced to remain practical and to deal with any one she encounters with suspicion and caution, and when the past is on another continent she wants her daughter to leave it there. Although I would have preferred greater resolution between Anna and Trudy — whose relationship appears broken from the start of the novel — the ending does provide some hope. The novel carefully explores the question of whether we can love those who save us even as they commit the most heinous crimes and whether the past is best left where it is in order for happiness to be found.

RATING: Quatrain

Read the discussions:

About the Author:

New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels THOSE WHO SAVE US (Harcourt, 2004) and THE STORMCHASERS (Dutton, May 2010) and the novella “The Lucky One” in GRAND CENTRAL (Berkeley/Penguin, July 2014). One of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Novel THE LOST FAMILY forthcoming from Harper Collins in Spring 2018.

June Readalong: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

At War Through the Generations, Anna and I have chosen to read Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum for our June read-a-long.

We hope you will join us for discussions each Friday starting June 9.

About the book:

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. Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life. Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

Discussions will be held every Friday as follows, and as always, we encourage you to share your thoughts and even pose your own questions.

June 9: Discussion of Prologue – Chapter 15

June 16: Discussion of Chapters 16-29

June 23: Discussion of Chapters 30-45

June 30: Discussion of Chapters 46 – End

We look forward to reading what sounds to be a fantastic book, and hope you will join us!

Mailbox Monday #292

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a 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. Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan for review for TLC Book Tours.

Irish immigrant Ellie Hogan has finally achieved the American Dream. But her comfortable bohemian life on Fire Island, New York, is shattered when her eldest adopted son, Leo, runs away, lured by the promise of fortune and fame in Hollywood. Determined to keep her family intact, Ellie follows him west, uprooting her youngest son and long-time friend Bridie.

In Los Angeles, Ellie creates a fashionable new home among the city’s celebrities, artists, and movie moguls. She is also drawn into intense new friendships, including talented film composer Stan, a man far different from any she has ever met, and Suri, a beautiful Japanese woman and kindred spirit, who opens Ellie’s eyes to the injustices of her country.

2.  The Lollipop Monster’s Christmas by Eric T. Krackow and Heather M. Krackow for review.

Larry’s favorite time of the year has arrived. He races around his home trying to make everything perfect before his friends arrive for Christmas morning. During the celebration, he discovers a lonely monster named Walter, who is very sad. Larry asks him why he is sad and Walter explains that Christmas is a difficult time of the year because he is always alone and has no family. Larry invites him to spend the holiday with him and his friends. Walter shyly accepts the invitation and follows Larry back to his home. Walter is welcomed by Larry’s friends and ends up having the most merry Christmas ever!

3.  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Kathy Mitchell from the library sale.

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

4.  Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie from the library sale.

Immediately forget any preconceptions you may have about Salman Rushdie and the controversy that has swirled around his million-dollar head. You should instead know that he is one of the best contemporary writers of fables and parables, from any culture. Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a delightful tale about a storyteller who loses his skill and a struggle against mysterious forces attempting to block the seas of inspiration from which all stories are derived.

5.  Ocean of Words by Ha Jin from the library sale.

The place is the chilly border between Russia and China. The time is the early 1970s when the two giants were poised on the brink of war. And the characters in this thrilling collection of stories are Chinese soldiers who must constantly scrutinize the enemy even as they themselves are watched for signs of the fatal disease of bourgeois liberalism.

In Ocean of Words, the Chinese writer Ha Jin explores the predicament of these simple, barely literate men with breathtaking concision and humanity. From amorous telegraphers to a pugnacious militiaman, from an inscrutable Russian prisoner to an effeminate but enthusiastic recruit, Ha Jin’s characters possess a depth and liveliness that suggest Isaac Babel’s Cossacks and Tim O’Brien’s GIs.

6.  Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson, translated by Joan Tate from the library sale.

Anna has returned from visiting her mother. Restless and unable to sleep, she wanders through her parents’ house, revisiting the scenes of her childhood. In a cupboard drawer, folded and pushed away from sight, she finds a sepia photograph of her grandmother, Hanna, whom she remembers as old and forbidding, a silent stranger enveloped in a huge pleated black dress. Now, looking at the features Anna recognises as her own, she realises she is looking at a different woman from the one of her memory. Set against the majestic isolation of the Scandinavian lakes and mountains, this is more than a story of three Swedish women. It is a moving testament of a time forgotten and an epic romance in every sense of the word.

7.  Zorro by Isabel Allende from the library sale.

A child of two worlds—the son of an aristocratic Spanish military man turned landowner and a Shoshone warrior woman—young Diego de la Vega cannot silently bear the brutal injustices visited upon the helpless in late-eighteenth-century California. And so a great hero is born—skilled in athleticism and dazzling swordplay, his persona formed between the Old World and the New—the legend known as Zorro.

 

8.  Those Who Saved Us by Jenna Blum from the library sale.

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.

9.  W.B. Yeats Selected Poems from the library sale.

“All things can tempt me from this craft of verse: ”
“One time it was a woman’s face, or worse-”
“The seeming needs of my fool-driven land;”
“Now nothing but comes readier to the hand”
“Than this accustomed toil.”
“–“From” All Things Can Tempt Me”
Nobel Prize winner W.B. Yeats laid the foundations for an Irish literary revival, drawing inspiration from his country’s folklore, the occult, and Celtic philosophy. A writer of both poems and plays, he helped found Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre. The poems here provide an example of his life’s work and artistry, beginning with verses such as “The Stolen Child” from his debut collection “Crossways “(written when he was 24) through “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” from “On the Boiler,” published a year prior to his death.

10.  Hello, Baby! (Amazing Baby) by Beth Harwood, illustrated by Mike Jolley and Emma Dodd from the library sale.

Slide the slider, and say hello, baby! Littleones will love the peek-a-boo slider as youshare the story of some baby friends and their mothers who say hello. Captivating patterns like checkers and stripes, and fascinating animals like bright yellow ducks and big woolly sheep are guaranteed to keep little ones entertained. Share the fun of discovery with your amazing baby!

11.  Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet from the library sale.

In Matthew Van Fleet’s incredible new multiconcept book, over 100 creatures and plants from A to Z hilariously demonstrate action words, synonyms, opposites, and more. Young explorers are challenged to spot four plants or animals that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Twenty-three textures plus foils, flaps, pull tabs, and even a scratch-and-sniff scent add to the interactive surprises on every page.

12. Play Me Another Song Piano Book by Jimmy Tanka and Jimmy Tanaka from the library sale.

A 24-page board book (10 1/4″ 10 1/8″)- an electronic keyboard with replaceable batteries and color-coded numbered keys- easy-to-follow musical notation- 12 songs: Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Yankee Doodle; Happy Birthday to You; It’s Raining, It’s Pouring; Hot Cross Buns; Humpty Dumpty; Rock-a-bye Baby; Hey, Diddle Diddle; Mary Had a Little Lamb; Pat-a-Cake; Little Miss Muffet; Old MacDonald- ideal for traveling.

What did you receive?

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 368 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a collection of short stories by a number of great authors from Karen White to Sarah McCoy and Pam Jenoff in which the linchpin is Grand Central Station in New York City.  What makes this collection a solid five stars (a designation I never use in reviews) is the connections — small as they may be — between the stories and characters.  You’ll find one character from a story early on is in the background and evokes an emotion in a character in a story later on.  This collection is so strong and examines that various aspects of reunion and love after World War II — whether that is love between father and daughter or an instant connection between strangers in a train station.

From “Going Home” by Alyson Richman

“But no matter the style, the clocks all gave a sense that one had to keep moving, and Liesel liked this.  It enabled her to focus on her responsibilities.  When she wasn’t dancing, she was sewing.  And when she wasn’t sewing, she was dancing, either at her ballet studies or performing at the supper clubs that helped pay her bills.” (page 14)

In these talented ladies’ hands, Grand Central comes to life with the bustling passengers on their way to trains and coming from trains and the subway, the people earning a living with their art in the hallways, and those waiting for their soldiers to return from war.  World War II was a pivotal time in history, but it also was the last time that the country was truly united behind a cause — the cause against a pervasive evil that must be vanquished.  These stories are about what happens when that cause is complete and those who fought and those left behind have to pick up what’s left of their lives.  What does it mean to be lucky, especially when you are all that’s left of your family — like Peter in “The Lucky One” by Jenna Blum?  Or what does a mother do after the Lebensborn program ends when her children are gone and the Nazis are vanquished in Sarah McCoy’s “The Branch of Hazel.”

From “The Harvest Season” by Karen White:

I glanced down at my ruined hands, thinking of Johnny and all the boys in the county who would never be coming home.  I wanted desperately to hold on to this moment for Will, to allow him to believe that while he’s been away we’d held on to the life he remembered so he could slip back into it like a familiar bed.  But time could not be fenced no matter how hard we tried.”  (page 336)

Some of these men and women face pivotal moments in their lives in Grand Central Station, while others are merely passing through onto that moment that will change their lives forever, but all together these are tales of strong people living beyond the hurt of the past to seek out the hope of the future.  Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is stunning, an emotional collection tied together by love, sadness, loss, and Grand Central Station. No matter who passes through their lives, there is an indelible impression left behind.

22nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

15th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.