When faced with decisions of life and death, we make choices that in retrospect seem questionable, but in the moment, feel like it is only thing we can do.
In Pam Jenoff’s 2007 novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, 19-year-old Emma Bau is reveling in the glow of being a newlywed. Not even a month after she marries her husband, Jacob, Germany invades Poland. Jacob has no choice but to disappear and Emma joins her parents in the quickly overcrowding Jewish ghetto. Smuggled out of the ghetto and into the home of her husband’s Catholic aunt, Emma is now Anna Lipowski, a Polish orphan.
Adding to the danger, Anna/Emma is hired as an assistant of Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official. While she is working for the Kommandant, Anna/Emma uses her status to help the resistance. But while she is doing this, she is potentially compromising her life, the lives of her loved ones and her marriage vows.
This book left me with wanting more. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. My favorite thing about the book was the character of the Kommandant. On one hand, he was responsible for the death of an untold number of innocents. But on the other hand, his affection for Anna/Emma was humanized him and if only temporarily removed the mask of the monster.
I absolutely recommend it.
Destiny is an odd thing. It can take us to a world of peace, love and tranquility, or it can take us to a world of fear, secrets and danger.
In the new book, The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel, by Pam Jenoff, the destinies of two women collide and forever alter the course of each other’s life. In her late teens, Noa has been impregnated and abandoned by a Nazi soldier. Forced to give up the baby, Noa finds a train full of infants headed toward the concentration camps. Taking one of the infants, she runs away from the rail station which she cleans to put some money in her wallet.
Found by a circus, Noa claims that the baby is her brother and trains to become a trapeze artist. Astrid, the lead performer in the trapeze act, is not initially thrilled with the new recruit. But Astrid has a secret of her own, that if revealed, could mean death, not just for her, but everyone in the circus. Astrid and Noa become friends, but that friendship is tested when the facade that is keeping them alive starts to wear thin. When the danger becomes too apparent, the women must make a choice: try to save each other’s lives or die with the secrets of their true selves.
I really liked this book. What made it memorable was the fear of just Noa and Astrid, but the fear of the world around them. The bounds of their relationship are not only tested by their pasts (and their secrets by extension), but also by the noose that is slowly being wrapped around their collective necks.
I absolutely recommend it.