Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back to the War

When I started reading Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, I felt like I had read that story before.  Not in the sense that I had actually picked up that book and read it, but in the sense that I have read so many stories of the civilians of World War II, that I was wondering if I was getting a little burnt out on them. 

TWSU  is divided into two parts, with one story set in Germany from 1939-1945, and the other set in Minnesota from 1993-1997.  At first, the German story had echos of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, with a German girl hiding a Jewish man who was even named Max in both stories.  The more modern story started off in practically the same way as Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, with the death of the father, the mother who wouldn't talk to her daughter, the mother's decline in health, and even a university study relating to the mother's war years.  However, TWSU could not have stolen it's story from these other two, since it was published years before either of them.

My interest was piqued when I understood the angle of the university study, which Trudy, the daughter of the German mother, Anna, was conducting.  Trudy was born in Germany during the war, and then grew up to be a university professor teaching German studies.  Her project focused on how German civilians could live with themselves after the war.  Obviously, this is a thinly veiled accusation of her mother, but Trudy learns more than she anticipated. 

A comparison that I didn't expect to make is that Anna's predicament during the war was really not so unlike Ma's situation in Room by Emma Donoghue.  A Nazi officer falls in love with Anna, and provides her with food and supplies not available to other civilians.  However, Anna doesn't have any choice in the relationship and must do as he wishes.  The children in the stories, Jack in Room and Trudy in TWSU, both think of their mother's captor as a person who brings them gifts, like Santa Claus.  Jack refers to the kidnapper as "Old Nick" in reference to "Old St. Nick", and Trudy refers to Horst as "St. Nikolaus".   A significant difference between Anna and Ma is that if Ma had managed to escape, the neighbors would have helped her.  Anna's neighbors see her as an enemy deserving of their scorn.

All told, once I was able to spot the differences that made this story unique, I didn't want to put TWSU down.  And I am certainly not done with my "Civilians of World War II" genre.

Next Up:  As Always, Julia:  the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Julia Child

Still Listening to:  The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

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