Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Featuring Jenna Blum and Jennifer Robson

 

By Lynn Willoughby

Those Who Save Us ~ Jenna Blum
I have read many books about WWI – from the point of view of soldiers, pilots, nurses, doctors, resistance, fighters, generals, Japanese deatainees and prisoners of war.  But this is the first book where it is from the German perspective.  Not only does Blum write about the average citizen and the Holocaust, but she discusses the hatred and persecution aimed at the German people after the war.
In this historical novel we see what life is like in Germany under the Nazi regime.  What has always been a big question for me was – how can you be living there and do nothing??  That would make you part of the problem!  Now I have some insight.
Anna is a young woman living in war torn Weimar with her father  – a Nazi sympathizer, when the story begins.  We get a glimpse of life with low rations, no fuel, worn out clothing, no medicines.  Anna’s daughter, Trudy, also tells her story from 1997 in America, and this really holds the storyline together.  I didn’t find her or Anna, very likeable, nevertheless, this book is a fascinating study, with a touching conclusion.  It never, ever, turns into one of those sappy mother-daughter bonding books!
It turns out I was so wrong in thinking the German people were like docile sheep, doing nothing to stop the atrocities in their back yard.  Without spoilers, I can only quote from the book:  “After all these years, that sight has never left me.  It inspired in me the will to survive.  It gave me hope…In fact, I remember little of what happened in those days.  My memory is not what it once was. Some would call that a blessing.”
So, we have a story that bounces back and forth between narrators, that spans fifty years and gives us deep insights into both lives and how they have been shaped by the horrors of war.  We see the will to survive.  We see the never-ending guilt.
One of the most powerful images from Blum was that of American soldiers escorting the townspeople to Buchenwald, to observe the horrifying remains and to bury the dead,  What could one person have done?  Read this book!!
It is a powerful and emotional view of one woman’s struggle to maintain her dignity and her sanity.
  • The Stormchasers
After the War is Over ~ Jennifer Robson
This second novel by Robson gives a great perspective, not only of war, as the name suggests, but after the war.
The protagonist is a woman who works for Elanor Rathbone, an Independent Member of Parliament in Britain from 1909-1934.  Rathbone was passionate about starting a system of family allowances and getting the vote for women, but also addressing the working conditions for women and children.  Charlotte, our protagonist, shares Rathbone’s passion and is one of the first women to vote – based on her attaining a degree at Oxford Collage.
We have several themes in this book of historical fiction – women’s rights, the chaos of unemployment as the able bodied men are demobilized back to a country on the verge of bankruptcy with no jobs.  Edgar’s story of life after the trenches, with a missing leg, severe concussion, suffering from PTSD, Charlotte’s role as a nurse to the neurological patients during the war, and her story of governess to Lady Elizabeth before the war.
Charlotte boards in a house with several other women, run by two unmarried sisters.  The stories of all the boarders are interesting, and skillfully woven into our main story.  What about the future?  Not what any of them had expected for they will all remain single and never be mothers.
I found the setting interesting too.  Because of the class system in England there were huge, noticeable differences in the lives of the women in the book.  While Charlotte is advocating for change, she muses – “One day it might even be possible for men and women alike to be judged by their character and actions rather than the accent with which they spoke, or the god to whom they prayed, or the colour of their skin.”  It is almost a century later and as we watch the news everyday we realize we are still not there.
This book sounds complicated but it really isn’t.  It’s well written, with attention to research.  I enjoyed it.
  • Somewhere in France
Who Knew?
Bedsores today are not the death knell of the past – partially due to the use of antibiotics.  Other tools used today include negative pressure therapy, muscle spasm relief, pain management and enzyme debridement.

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