Friday, January 25, 2013

Those Who Save Us - Final Discussion

Happy Friday! I am so glad we read this! I really enjoyed it.  There were a few parts where they description of the weather/natural beauty had me skipping a bit but the plot was what wowed me.  Sadly, it ended before I was ready for it to end.  I wanted more details from Mr. Pfeffer!


For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.
Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.
Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Questions:

1. How would you categorize Those Who Save Us: as a war story, a love story, a mother-daughter story? Why? How is it different from other novels that address the issues surrounding the Holocaust? What new perspectives does it offer?

I feel it fits into all of the above categories.  It's a war story because it discusses changes happening in Weimar during WWII, it's a love story because it covers Anna/Max, Anna/Jack (but can that be a love story?) and Anna and the Obersturmführer, which you could also question the validity of a love story happening.  Also, Trudy/Rainer.  And it is MOST definitely a mother-daughter story because of how Anna's war-life shaped the way she shared things/saw Trudy.

2. Discuss the novel's title, Those Who Save Us. In what ways do the characters save each other in the novel, and who saves whom? How does Blum play with the concept of being saved, being safe, being a savior?

Max saves Anna from loneliness, Anna saves Max from the Germans, Mathilde saves Anna from her father, Obersturmführer saves Anna and Trudy by providing food and some safety during the war, Jack saves Anna by bringing her to America....

3. What are Anna's sexual reactions to the Obersturmführer, and what effect do they have on how she sees herself? How do they shape Anna's relationship with Trudy? ... Do you see Anna's relationship with the Obersturmführer as primarily sexual, or are there places in the novel where their relationship transcends the sexual?

4. Do you see the Obersturmführer as a monster or as human? What are his vulnerabilities? To what degree is he a product of his time? If the Obersturmführer had been born in contemporary America, what might he be doing today?

I feel his moments of humanity were far and few inbetween.  His vulnerabilities are public persepective.  He wants to be adored and respected.  Others opinions are very important to him.  I also really wish we were given soem sort of a time frame on how long Max lived and when the Obersturmführer killed him.  Was it after he started visiting Anna and figured out who the father of Trudy was? Because I am certain he knew.

5. Toward the end of the novel, Anna thinks that the Obersturmführer "has blighted her ability to love." Do you think he has forever affected her ability to love Jack? To love Trudy? What are Anna's real feelings for the Obersturmführer, and what are his true feelings toward Anna and her daughter?

I don't think she could ever love another man.  I also think her ability to love her daughter in some ways was severely hindered by the Obersturmführer.  I think she was extremely traumatized by him and that what she thought might be love at times was more of a Stockhom syndrome.  When he was leaving town, I kind of got that he cared for her in a way that only he could, but he didn't truly love her.  If he did, he would have gotten papers for Trudy and put up a fight to get her to go with him.

6. Are Trudy's difficulties with her mother caused only by the secrets Anna keeps? If the past had not come between them, what would their relationship have been like? In what ways are Trudy and Anna typical of mothers and daughters everywhere? What parallels can you draw between their relationship and yours with your own mother?

7. Trudy has been familiar with shame all her life, both her own shame and Anna's. How does Trudy learn about shame from Anna? Does Trudy's shame stem solely from her suspicions about her Nazi parentage or from her German heritage as well? How has her shame manifested in her adult lifestyle?

8.. At the end of Those Who Save Us, the characters' fates are ambiguous; Trudy, for instance, is left in a "vacuum between one part of life ending and another coming to take its place." Why does Blum do this? What statement, if any, is she trying to make? Do you feel that the novel's end is a happy one for Trudy? For Anna? Why or why not? And what do you think has happened to the Obersturmführer?

Loved reading this and hope you did too! Can't wait to discuss again next month!

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