Thursday, May 14, 2009

Those Who Save Us

* Updated May 18, see below

I'm nearly done with Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. A novel, Those Who Save Us takes place in two different eras. It follows Anna, a 20-something German Aryan during WWII, and her young daughter Trudie as they try to survive the fallout of war. In other chapters the book follows 50-something Trudy (spelled with a 'y' in her chapters, which is interesting), a University of Minnesota professor who begins work on a "German Project": interviewing Germans who were alive during WWII to find out how they feel about what they lived through. Anna is also in the "Trudy chapters," but is then an old woman with very little to say.

You know right from the start what Trudy's problem is going to be. Her mother won't talk to her about the past, and Trudy has no idea who her father actually is. Was it the SS soldier who came around weekly for more than two years while Trudie and her mother lived alone in a small German town? Was it the American soldier who brought them to America? Or was it someone else? I laughed when Trudy's ex-husband points out that her "German Project" is her version of "therapy." Touché.

My feelings about the book change as I read it. Of course it's heartbreaking to hear the stories of the Jews and the Germans (who, while not put in concentration camps, were also starving and poor and in danger most of the time), but I think it's also an important part of history that can't really be talked about enough and should never be forgotten. However, it's disgusting and disturbing to read about Anna's relationship with the SS officer. It makes me shudder, so those chapters don't make for the most entertaining reading. But again, their relationship probably wasn't unique at that time, so maybe it's important to know about. Anna's feelings toward the officer are also very interesting; there's repulsion there, but also curiosity.

The adult Trudy frustrates me. You can tell she's a very conflicted person and often contradicts herself. Why does she want to be so alone all the time? Why is she so cold toward other people? But maybe that's what makes for a good character? The fact that she has many dimensions that bring out this reaction in me probably makes her pretty lifelike?

I'm about 100 pages from the end, and I think I can see where things are going - What relationships will form, what relationships will falther. But I think I'm still going to have some questions in the end - loose ends that won't be tied up. Sometimes I like books that leave certain things up to the reader, but when they evoke such an emotional/physical response (good or bad) like this book, it's nice when things wrap up nicely (again, whether good or bad - doesn't matter to me). (The other thing that's jarring about this book is the author never uses quotation marks. All the dialogue is in paragraph form and if you don't read carefully, you might not know what's "thought" and what's "said.")

If you're interested in WWII and enjoy historic-type novels, this is a good example of one. While it's not "happy," it's well-written, engaging and a page-turner. You just might not fall in love with the characters.

* Update, May 18. I finished the book over the weekend and while most loose ends were wrapped up, I thought they were done so rather easily and abruptly. Trudy learns the truth for which she's searching, but it seems unrealistic to the story and a bit predictable for the reader. Overall, the book was interesting and digestible, but the hang ups I talk about keep me from loving it.

1 comment:

CMS said...

I read this a few months ago and LOVED it (though I agree that the parts about the SS officer were hard to stomach). It makes you wonder what you'd do in order to survive (esp. if you have a child to support).