I just finished Jenna Blum’s Those Who Save Us, a novel that toggles between one woman’s shameful past in Nazi Germany and her daughter’s attempt to uncover the truth in present-day Minnesota. I’m impressed by how real it feels, especially as a novel about the Holocaust.
Apparently it was her first book, which impresses me even more. Curious about why she wrote it as fiction and wondering if it was based on personal family history, I checked out her site. I soon discovered I wasn’t the only reader who wanted to know the book’s back story. She explains:
“Readers assume Those Who Save Us is autobiographical—they often look surprised when they meet me and see I’m not an eighty-something German woman or embittered fifty-something German history professor. I take it as the highest compliment when my readers think my characters and their situations must be real. But in fact, I invented their stories.”
Wow. I knew it was fiction but assumed it was founded on some semblance of fact. I often wonder why people choose to write novels about the Holocaust when the real-life stories are endless and endlessly fascinating.
Like me, Ms. Blum is interested in the enduring impact of the Holocaust some 65+ years later. I got excited about how well she was able to impress upon the reader the transfer of trauma from one generation to the next, both through her main characters and even some peripheral ones like a man who witnessed the murder of his mother and younger brother at the hands of a Nazi. He spent the remainder of his life haunted by the fact that he did nothing to help save them.
As I read more about Ms. Blum, I noticed other similarities between us. She was introduced to the Holocaust at the age of five through a book called, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. My interest began at a young age too, when I met and spoke with real Holocaust survivors at my synagogue. We grew up in neighboring New Jersey towns during the 1970s and 1980s (am pretty sure we’re the exact same age, too) and although both intrigued by the Holocaust and its effects on subsequent generations, we’re both only tangentially connected to it. Haven’t gotten around to it but am thinking of contacting her and inviting her to lunch or coffee or some such if she lives in the tri-state area.
Anyway, if you like a page-turner and are as interested in character-driven Holocaust stories, you should consider picking up this book. It’s a fast read and it’s really well done. Let me know what you think of it too!