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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!

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

WWII Read-a-Long: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

In March, Anna and I will begin the read-a-long for All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr at War Through the Generations.  We hope that you will join us.

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Here is the read-a-long schedule, with discussions here on each Friday.

  • Discussion of Sections Zero and One on Friday, March 3
  • Discussion of Sections Two and Three on Friday, March 10
  • Discussion of Sections Four and Five on Friday, March 17
  • Discussion of Sections Six and Seven on Friday, March 24
  • Discussion of Sections Eight and Nine on Friday, March 31
  • Discussion of Final Sections on Friday, April 7

We hope that you will join us for the first discussion this Friday!

War Through the Generations Reading Challenge 2017

After our one-year hiatus, Anna and I have resurrected the War Through the Generations blog with the 2017 reading challenge.

We’ll be revisiting WWII books, and we’ll hold an end-of-challenge giveaway for the participants that read the most books — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s books, etc.

We hope that you’ll join us, sign up in the comments and link your reviews in Mr. Linky throughout 2017.

We’ll also be announcing three read-a-longs for March, June, and September 2017 soon, so stay tuned for that as well.

Have a great year of reading!

Read-a-Long of Anita Shreve’s Stella Bain

This year at War Through the Generations we’ve been hosting a read-a-long specific to one of the 6 wars we are covering.

As this year marks the 100th anniversary of WWI, we’ve decided to select one of our favorite authors — Anita Shreve — to honor the war.

Stella Bain is our selection for August.  Synopsis from GoodReads:

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his house guest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

Discussions will be posted on Friday for the designated chapters.  Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, Aug. 8: Pages 1-70
  • Friday, Aug. 15: Pages 71-138
  • Friday, Aug. 22: Pages 139-207
  • Friday, Aug. 29: Pages 208-end

We hope that you’ll join us for the read-a-long and discussions at War Through the Generations.

American Revolution Read-a-Long in September

Beginning in September, War Through the Generations will invite readers (participants and non-participants, alike) to join us in a read-a-long of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Here’s a little more about the book:

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom. (GoodReads Summary)

Our discussions will be held on each FRIDAY in September.

If you’d like to join us, sign up here.

2013 War Through the Generations Theme Announced

Everyone is signing up for their 2013 challenges already, but here’s another for you to consider.

washington button

Click on the icon for more details.

2012 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge: WWI

WWI Reading Challenge

Anna and I, as you may already know, co-host the War Through the Generations Reading Challenges each year.

Since creating the blog, we have delved into WWII, the Vietnam War, and the U.S. Civil War (reader’s choice).  The website contains ever-growing lists of book recommendations for each of those wars, plus a running list of reviews for books that are from challenge participants and others that we’ve found across the blogosphere.

In 2012, Anna and I could not pass up the opportunity to delve into WWI, often considered The Great War, which occurred roughly between 1914 to 1918 and started roughly with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.

The WWI Reading Challenge will be held between Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2012.

Books must have WWI as a primary or secondary theme and occur before, during, or after the war.

Here are the reading levels:

  • Dip: Read 1-3 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.
  • Wade: Read 4-10 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.
  • Swim: Read 11 or more books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.

We’re waiting on some buttons for the challenge, but you can read all the details and sign up at War Through the Generations.

***Also, if you sign up, Please follow War Through the Generations in your feed readers and on Twitter @wargenerations and Facebook for updates, giveaways, and more***

I’ll be signing up for the Wade level of 4-10 books.  How about you?

***This Just In***

The read-a-long book for 2012 is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Enemy Women Read-a-Long at War Through the Generations

Anna and I hope you will join us for the August read-a-long of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles as part of the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.

We will read a handful of chapters every week throughout August, and every Friday, we will post discussion questions on War Through the Generations.

We welcome you to post your thoughts on your blog and provide a link or just type your thoughts in the comments section of the discussion post; whatever works best for you.  You can answer our questions or just discuss whatever you found most interesting in each section.

If you are interested in reading along with us, please let us know.  You don’t have to be participating in the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011 to join us!

Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family’s avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee.

The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison. But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

Now an escaped “enemy woman,” Adair must make her harrowing way south buoyed by a promise … seeking a home and a family that may be nothing more than a memory.

Here’s the schedule for the read-a-long:

Week One: Prologue – Chapter 6; discussion on Fri., Aug. 5

Week Two: Chapters 7-15; discussion on Fri., Aug. 12

Week Three: Chapters 16-24; discussion on Fri., Aug. 19

Week Four: Chapters 25-31; discussion/final thoughts on Fri., Aug. 26

Guest Post: John Aubrey Anderson, Author of The Cool Woman

John Aubrey Anderson‘s The Cool Woman is a novel that is on my Vietnam War reading list, and I plan to read and review it here before the end of the year.   Book Reviews by Molly already reviewed the book, so check that out.

In the meantime, I’ve got a treat for you!  I’m going to tantalize you with a portion of the author’s guest post, which you can read in full at War Through the Generations.

Check out an excerpt and then head on over.

As part of a school project, my granddaughter was required to interview a Vietnam War vet . . . she chose me. Her questions served to remind me . . . that I was relaxed about going to Vietnam because that was my job, that I wept when we buried one of my best friends in Arlington National Cemetery, and that my best memory of that part of my life is of returning home to my family.

The reality of the hell of war cannot be captured in the written word — be it fact or fiction. Nonetheless, I chose the chaos of the war in Vietnam as the backdrop for my fourth novel, The Cool Woman, because I wanted my main characters in an environment that would help “refine their thinking.” I tell much of the story from the cockpit — a vantage point familiar to me.

Please read the rest of the guest post at War Through the Generations today!

Also, the new 2011 War Through the Generations Topic is posted!

Sign up for the new 2011 Reading Challenge!

Help War Through the Generations Decide on the 2011 Topic

I bet you’re wondering what the new war topic is for 2011!

Well, Anna and I decided to put that question the participants or anyone interested in joining the new challenge.

So, if you want to provide us with your input by voting in our poll, please do so at War Through the Generations.

We want to make the site as interactive as possible, and not to worry, those Vietnam War reviews are still coming…along with additions to the reading list.