Book Review: Those who save us by Jenna Blum

This was a Goodreads recommendation. It had been a while since I went on to the recommendations section. This book looked interesting and I was delighted to find it in the library that very day.

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The book opens with Trudy rushing back home after her father died. Her mother and Trudy were cold shouldered by their neighbours. Trudy shows that she knew that she and her mother were only tolerated because of her father. It made you wonder why and as the story unfolds, it becomes clear why.

Trudy and her mother were rescued from Germany by an American soldier at the end of the war. Trudy’s mother never says anything about their life in Germany during the war. Her silence has always weighed heavily on Trudy. She just remembers bits and pieces from her life before they came to America. The only link she has to the life before they came to America is an old photograph, but her mother refuses to say a word about it. Trudy has no idea what happened or why her mother refuses to talk about the past. The past that she has no idea about hangs heavily about her. Unable to piece together the pieces of history that she does remember has been a life long nightmare for Trudy. A past she knows nothing about, coming from a country which was responsible for one of the most horrendous crimes in History and knowing that juist being German condemned her in the minds of a lot of people around her, was a baggage she carried around. Her mother’s silence just compounded the collective guilt of her people that Trudy carried with her.

Now, years later,as a professor of German Studies, she gets an opportunity to understand the role of women in the Nazi times. She sets up a project to interview women of her mother’s generation and understand the role of women in Nazi Germany.

The book goes back and forth into Anna’s(Trudy’s mother) life as well as the Trudy’s life in the present. As the story unfolds, we get to see the war and it’s effects on another set of people. The German women left behind in the villages and towns, who had to survive a war that was brutal in other ways for them. The other side of the fence had its own story. The things people did, in times that demanded it from them.

I hesitated to start it, wondering if it would be a bit too heavy, but once I started it, it was impossible to put it down. The tale gripped me, refusing to let go until the last word was read. It was not the most pleasant read, and yet, the author keeps it from becoming a depressing read. The blurb said

Those who save is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame

I couldn’t put it better. I book that opened my eyes to another facet of the war. A war that had such huge consequences, and survivors that might actually still be carrying the scars. Some physical, some psychological, some because of their actions, some because of what others did.. A book worth reading. A 4.5/5 from me.

About the Author
Jenna Blum is an American writer notable for her novels Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers. She is regarded as an authority on the subject of fiction writing and in 2013 was selected by the Modern Scholar series to teach an audio lecture course entitled The Author at Work: The Art of Writing Fiction.In addition, Blum leads novelists as part of the Grub Street writing center, a Boston-based workshop for writers.She was named as a favorite woman writer by Oprah magazine.

This book is available from Amazon(UK).

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Saksh asked me to read this, and going by previous experience, I immediately placed a request at my library. Only after I started reading the book, did I make the connection with the movie(which I have not seen, by the way, but had read about).

I honestly don’t know where to start to talk about this book. I read it in one go. Could not put it down. It was that engrossing. It takes you through a lot.  Micheal Berg, a fifteen year old school boy, goes to thank a woman, Hanna , who saved his life when he came down with hepatitis, and ends up having an affair with her. One day, she disappears from his life, leaving no clues, no messages, nothing. He tries to find her, but finally gives up. He also wallows in guilt wondering if he had done something to drive her away.

The next time he sees her, she is in a courtroom, a defendant in a trial related to the Holocaust. Micheal Berg’s struggle with the demons of history that his previous generation has handed to his, his guilt over his relationship with Hanna,his guilt that he has in some way, betrayed Hanna, so many emotions, so many angles, so well etched out. Hanna’s struggles with her own secrets. The most important thing that this book, brought out for me, was how the German generation which came into being, after the war, struggled with the moral dilemma, the second-hand guilt that has come along with their heritage.

Micheal and Hanna’s relationship has been handled beautifully. A subject which could easily become sleazy, has remained what it was – a relationship between two people who had their own history.

I am not going into the details of the story, because I do think that this is a book that we should all read, and I do not want to give away too much. Why is it called the reader? Well, you have to read it to find out. And now, I want to watch the movie too. Saksh – can’t thank you enough for recommending this book.