Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The Kommandant's Girl
I mentioned when I wrote my review on The Book Thief, how dismayed I felt when realizing the story was set in WWII Germany. The market for fictional stories of the war, especially the persecution and massacre of the Jews, seems to have been saturated.
The Book Thief surprised me with its fresh and irreverent approach to story telling. The Kommandant's Girl, on the other hand, stuck to the game plan and told a very conservative and unimaginative story.
To be fair, the book is set in Poland, not Germany, and the story is based on a real life story the author discovered while doing her research in Poland.
Emma Bau, a newlywed whose husband has escaped to help the resistance movement, finds herself in the Jewish Ghetto living with her parents. During one night, she is awoken and smuggled out of the ghetto and set up to live as Anna Lipowski with her husband's non-Jewish aunt. At a dinner party one evening, Emma/Anna meets Kommandant Georg Richwalder, a high ranking Nazi party member, and his attraction to her leads to his hiring her to be his assistant. As his assistant, she is expected to and in fact, wants to, help the resistance by acting as a spy whenever she can. To Jenoff's credit, she attempts to give her characters depth by allowing Emma/Anna to become attracted and attached to the Kommandant, understandable considering the short length of her relationship with her husband, and considering the kind of man Kommandant Richwalder appeared to be: fair, hard working and heartbroken from his wife's earlier suicide. As their relationship progresses, she is ultimately asked to betray her marriage vows and use her relationship with the Kommandant to gain urgent information for the resistance.
The story is interesting and even well told (except for the end when the author tried to tie up too many loose strings for plot purposes), but that interesting and well told story has already been done. Many times. Unfortunately for Jenoff, whether this particular story is true or not doesn't make its telling any more consequential. In spite of its familiarity, I'd recommend Pam Jenoff's account to anyone who hasn't reached their own threshold of World War II Jewish fiction.