THOSE WHO SAVE US

Jenna Blum, Author
Jenna Blum, Author . Harcourt $24 (482p) ISBN 978-0-15-101019-6
Reviewed on: 04/05/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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Blum, who worked for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, takes a direct, unsentimental look at the Holocaust in her first novel. The narrative alternates between the present-day story of Trudy, a history professor at a Minneapolis university collecting oral histories of WWII survivors (both German and Jewish), and that of her aged but once beautiful German mother, Anna, who left her country when she married an American soldier. Interspersed with Trudy's interviews with German immigrants, many of whom reveal unabashed anti-Semitism, Anna's story flashes back to her hometown of Weimar. As Nazi anti-Jewish edicts intensify in the 1930s, Anna hides her love affair with a Jewish doctor, Max Stern. When Max is interned at nearby Buchenwald and Anna's father dies, Anna, carrying Max's child, goes to live with a baker who smuggles bread to prisoners at the camp. Anna assists with the smuggling after Trudy's birth until the baker is caught and executed. Then Anna catches the eye of the Obersturmführer , a high-ranking Nazi officer at Buchenwald, who suspects her of also supplying the inmates with bread. He coerces her into a torrid, abusive affair, in which she remains complicit to ensure her survival and that of her baby daughter. Blum paints a subtle, nuanced portrait of the Obersturmführer , complicating his sordid cruelty with more delicate facets of his personality. Ultimately, present and past overlap with a shocking yet believable coincidence. Blum's spare imagery is nightmarish and intimate, imbuing familiar panoramas of Nazi atrocity with stark new power. This is a poised, hair-raising debut. Agent, Stephanie Abou at the Joy Harris Literary Agency. (Apr.)

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