“So you see, he says softly, we are all ashamed in one way or another. Who among us is not stained by the past?”
Jenna Blum, Those Who Save Us
Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us is 496 pages and was first published in 2005. I heard about it on Twitter because it is a current international bestseller and has just broken the mark of 100,000 sales, which in fiction is A LOT! I’ve had it for some time, but had to be in a strong emotional place before I read it because of the subject matter.
Those Who Save Us is a story told in two time periods about a mother, Anna, and her daughter, Trudy, who have a strained relationship because of a shared silence and shame about their past in Nazi Germany. The only physical evidence of that past is a photograph of Anna, four-year-old Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald, but the emotional scars from their lives in Germany are still raw fifty years later.
Because Trudy was so young when she left Germany and because of her mother’s silence about the past, her own subconscious shame sets her on a journey to find out about her legacy by interviewing citizens of Germany while the Nazi’s were in power. It is in her search that she unearths more than she ever could have anticipated.
Part of what drew me to this novel was its perspective. In all of the books I’ve read about WWII, I’ve honestly never considered the non-Jewish German citizens’ reaction to the Nazis beyond my harsh judgment of it. I found it jarring and eye opening to consider what it would have been like to be a German citizen, and to consider what I would have done in their shoes.
The emotional landscape of Those Who Save Us is one of the most powerful I’ve ever experienced. If being moved to tears is the mark of a good book, this is one of the best I’ve ever read. At times I wanted to look away and stop reading. Blum holds nothing back in her brutal descriptions of the savagery of the Nazis in every aspect of their lives–physical, emotional, sexual, and mental. In the end, however, I was glad I kept reading.
Those Who Save Us is one of the most moving books I’ve ever read and well worth your time. The writing is flawless, the perspective is unique, and its conclusion is satisfying and believable. I should re-emphasize the graphic nature of the book for those of you who are faint of heart, but if you are able to push through it, it’s well worth it.
Jenna Blum is a true force in fiction, and I look forward to reading more of her work.