Friday, May 29, 2009

Meeting of May 25, 2009

This month's meeting was at Linda's home. She provided us with a lovely plate of cold cuts, cheese and dip. We also had an excellent lemon cake with our coffee.  Beth, Betty, Carla, Jolene, Linda, Michèle and ShirleyItalic were present.

This month's book was Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. It is her first novel. Ms. Blum has written articles and worked for the Stephen Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The interviews she conducted at the Foundation gave her the idea and incentive for her novel. 

All thought the book was very well written, the character development was excellent and the physical description of the characters allowed you to easily imagine them, especially the Obersturmführer.  She paid attention to details, description of the weather, of rooms, such as the rooms of the bakery, the hotel she stayed for the weekend with the Obersturmführer. 

The title of the book Those Who Save Us is well represented in the story in many ways some that are obvious because they relate to the idea of "saving" someone from horrible situations and others that come from our tendency to use the word "save" in our everyday conversations. 
  • Max the good Doktor "saves" Anna's dog
  • The Doktor is grateful to Ann for rescuing him from Frau Rosenberg (page 13)
  • Anna "saves" Max by hiding him in the servant's quarters of her father's house
  • Mathilde the baker "saves" Anna from the wrath of her father by sheltering her when she discovers she is pregnant
  • Mathilde and Anna "save" the prisoners at Buchenwald Camp by providing bread that she hides in a tree trunk for them and also by getting information out to the Resistance
  • The Obersturmführer tells Anna "Do you know, you alone save me. Your purity, your values - our shared values -..." (page 271)
  • All that Anna did in Germany, with the Obersturmführer was to "save" her daughter Trudie
  • Jack "saved" Anna and Trudie by marrying Anna and taking her back to America
There are many other incidents that refer back to the title.  The novel is complex and leads to an excellent discussion; about Anna relationship with the Obersturmführer, the impact on Anna's ability to love, the relationship between Anna and her daughter Trudy; about the impact on Trudy's life and her inability to be happy; how much would we do to protect and "save" ourselves and our children, how far would we go. 

We also had a good discussion about Anna's refusal to talk about the past. When Trudy says that she wants Saint Nikolaus instead of Santa on Christmas Eve of 1945, their first year in America "I said you will not speak of him. He no longer exists. He belongs to the past, to that other place and time, and all that is dead. ....The past is dead, and better it remain so."  She says it other times also, she does not see how talking of the past can help.  We discussed how reality shows and programs such as Oprah, Dr. Phil encourage people to discuss every part of their life as if it can help.  We wondered if it is really necessary to analyze everything and why many feel it necessary to tell all. 

Several other books were suggested:  Elie Wiesel's "Night" that asks many questions and helped inspired "Those Who Save Us". It is not a novel but rather Mr. Wiesel's memoirs of his experience in the concentration camps.  Hannah Arendt wrote many books and reports about the War and in particular  "Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil"  Christabel Bielenbergh wrote two books about her experience in Germany as an expatriate married to a German man. "The Past is Myself" and "The Road Ahead". 

This book was a difficult book to read for many of our members but it was an excellent Book Club choice that generated a lot of discussion and thought. Thank you Shirley. 

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