Review: Those Who Save Us

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.

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9 thoughts on “Review: Those Who Save Us

  1. Nina Badzin says:

    Erika–I’m sort of jealous you got to experience Those Who Save Us for the first time. It’s definitely one of all time favorites. I signed up for Jenna’s session at Muse, but I don’t yet if I got that one. I’ll let you know. And I’ll take TONS of notes!!

  2. erikarobuck says:

    I wish I could get to Muse this year! Please do take notes and Tweet live. I can’t wait to follow it!

  3. Aisha says:

    I’m always on the hunt for good books- thanks for sharing this review- it sounds heavy but good.

  4. Aisha says:

    Also, I saw on your twitter that there are twitter book clubs? How can one get involved in this??

    • Erika Robuck says:

      Hi Aisha,

      I’ve found Twitter book clubs through the people I’m following. I’ve participated in two by others and co-hosted one. The one I co-hosted evolved organically from a discussion of a #fridayreads book that many people loved.

      I would start posting what you’re reading on #fridayreads, and check out what others are saying. You might put together a book club or see if one emerges as a result of a shared passion for a particular book or author.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog! I hope this helps!

  5. Okay, I have this on my to-read list as well. That is quite an endorsement and now I feel compelled to read it. I might have to take a mixed martial arts class or have my feet bound before I can start it. I think I’m pretty tough but I have a hard time with violence just because I know it could really happen. Ghost stories are a little easier to get through b/c they are a bit more far-fetched.

    Sounds like I might need therapy after reading this…:)

  6. Bea Sempere says:

    Great review. I read it several years back and loved it. Thanks for pointing out the German aspect of it–I hadn’t thought about it. It’s true that most books about Nazi Germany are from the Jewish perspective. This and another book really show the emotional and physical tearing and scarring left upon the German citizens.

    I’m of part German heritage and I’ve been living in Germany. I’ve been told shame still follows them. And some bunkers are still visible along with large craters in forests where bombs hit (not all have been found).

    Thanks again.

  7. jane huffman says:

    Just finished reading this book. Very interesting and heartbreaking. Terrible what the Jewish people and other German citizens endured during WW2. Thanks for a great read!

  8. […] Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum […]

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