Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review- Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

            It has been a while since I’ve last posted a book review. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve actually read a book other than for school. With all the newness of being in Leeds, I simply – and unfortunately – let reading slip. I finished this book in the summer, but I’ve kept the notes. I did read another since then, but it’s not suitable for review. I plan to be a lot better about reading this year. It’s a huge part of who I am, and I’m sad that I’ve lost a bit of that. This is my formal acknowledgement of that which comes with the promise to be better to myself.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum is classified as historical fiction which is my favourite category. It is set up with two separate stories of mother Anna and her struggles in WWII and her daughter Trudy who is completing a project about German women in WWII. In the story of Anna, we see right from the beginning how brainwashing is a part of a war society. However, although ignorant of the situation around her, Anna is completely against her father’s brutal actions and recognizes the danger in helping a Jewish man. Later, we see her become a literal object to a German officer and feel for her when her body starts to betray itself because of the actions done to her. Anna becomes increasingly brave as she fights for survival for her daughter’s sake. The relationship formed between the officer and Anna is utterly upsetting, and she must struggle with her morals in order to keep her daughter safe. She is forced to resort to a fantasy world just to stay sane. Later in life, we see the deep impact that her struggles left in her life, and see the guilt Anna feels in American just for being a German woman. Anna is a character that has struggled her entire life and her suffering never seems to end.
In Trudy’s story, she goes around interviewing Germans for her project. I was waiting from the beginning to see when the tides would turn negative for her. She studies history and teaches history, but she has managed to disengage herself from the war. At some point, her morals must come to a wall when she realizes what people have done in order to survive. As she connects to her roots, her interviews become more focused and driven. I see Trudy’s search for understanding about her past and recognize the emotional decline when she starts to take the project more personally than she should. The biggest interest for me lies in Trudy’s relationship with her mother. There is a constant gruffness and tension between mother and daughter, and I fully expected a breakthrough to occur at some point. Her mother does get caught paying interest to the project and a well-awaited altercation comes about. The alignment of the stories shows how lives are connected and where the tension really comes from.
              What I disliked about the novel was the lack of quotations when people spoke. I sometimes found it difficult to follow long conversations and had to look back to remind myself of who was saying what. There were certain plot point that I found to be predictable or cheesy. There was no translation offered for the German words which I found frustrating. Yes, I could have easily looked it up, but I don’t wish for reading to require research when entire sentences are in a different language. I am not a big fan of the character of Trudy. I found her reaction to emotional events to be irrational. She also engages in a relationship that I found to be unnecessary to the novel. What I did like was the way the novel moves along. It starts off well and continues with a good pace. It is an easy read with quick chapters. I like how it tells a different side of WWII. I typically don’t like the duo-story narration, but it worked so well in this novel because Blum does an excellent job at connecting the stories and little details. The narration feels natural making it easy to read. It builds up mystery which is an aspect of a novel I deeply appreciate.
              The themes of mother/daughter relationships and desperation strongly carry throughout the novel. The best theme was the theme of the past. I found myself questioning where or not it was proper to bury the past or confront it. There is a constant haunting of the past that drew me in. We see how the past has been engraved in generations. I could see how the title of the novel become a key element through exploration of the past. Due to the strong themes and ease of reading, I give this book 4/5. I liked it a lot more than I thought at the beginning, and I would strongly suggest it to anyone who wants a different side of a WWII narration.
-Daniella Poloni