Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Those Who Save Us

I've been on a sort of "girl-power" kick lately. Not overtly, but the last few books I've finished, I can't help but think of the independent, but limited-to-express, spirit of women throughout the ages. O-lan, in The Good Earth, felt all the things we modern women feel (anger, jealousy, humiliation, yearning, pride) but wasn't allowed to change her circumstance because of the culture and time she lived in. But her womanhood was there. God of Animals had a female protaganist, Still Summer was about the courage and will of females, albeit not my favorite characters, and Christabel LaMotte broke the mold of a victorian spinster with her intelligence and will.

The order of these books have been chosen purely on chance and yet the theme of a strong woman dominated my latest read as well.

Those Who Save Us, written by Jenna Blum, is an historical fiction novel set in Germany during World War II. Anna is an eighteen year old girl who falls in love with a Jewish doctor and finds the courage to finally stand up to her domineering father, a Nazi sympathizer and altogether unkind man, and hide her lover in her own home. When her father turns him over to the Gestapo, Anna leaves and lives and works with a woman who works with the Resistance Movement. Anna, pregnant and alone, is ultimately left with her own resources and determination to survive and protect her infant daughter. She does this by becoming the mistress of an SS officer after the woman she lives with and works for is executed for being a traitor.

My favorite thing about this was the recurring weaving of the title/theme throughout the many different story lines. The young daughter and her father. The Aryan and the Jew. The resistence worker and a pregnant woman. The SS and his mistress. The mother and her daughter. The Germans and the Americans. The daughter and her step father and ultimately her own adult lover, a Jew. What is the price of survival? What are the faces of those that save us? Our parents, our friends, our lovers, our enemies? This is a complicated story about the difficult and sometimes ugly choices a woman makes to survive, and the shame she endures for her choices.

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