Tag Archives: Pam Jenoff

The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel Book Review

It is easy to judge someone based on a stereotype or a first impression. But when we get to know them, we hopefully will get to see the real person and not who we think they are.

Pam Jenoff‘s new book, The Woman with the Blue Star: A Novel, was published in May. In Krakow, Poland in 1942, 18-year-old Sadie Gault’s life has been turned upside down. Because she is Jewish, she and her parents have been forced to move into the Krakow Ghetto. When the Nazis decide that it is time to liquidate the ghetto, they escape into the sewers beneath the city. Hiding with her pregnant mother and another family, she looks up one day and sees a young woman her age looking back to her.

On the outside, Ella Stepanek is living a comfortable life (relatively speaking). Her Catholic faith has so far kept her alive and safe. But once she gets home, it is another story. Ella is the only one of her siblings still living at home. Both of her parents are deceased. Her stepmother would love nothing more than to have an empty house. She has also opened her doors, literally and figuratively to the new regime.

As the two girls become friends, Ella starts to provide Sadie with as many provisions as possible. But with both the war and the hunt for hidden Jews ramping up, they realize that the decisions that must be made have life-changing consequences.

I have been a fan of Jenoff for the last few years. She perfectly balances the historical record with fictional characters, telling stories that transcend the time and place in which they are set. I also very much appreciate that most, if not all of her protaganists are female. We can talk all we want about representation. But until writers, readers, and publishers step up, male protaganists will still dominate the world of fiction.

Reading this book, I am reminded that the Holocaust is not ancient history. Many who survived are no longer with us. Without their testimony and the recording of their experiences, this dark day in history will be lost to memory. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the younger generations to listen while we can and make sure that what they lived through is preserved, re-told, and never forgotten.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Lost Girls of Paris Book Review

War and espionage has often been considered a man’s game. At best, women were seen as secretaries working in the home offices, assistants or nurses. There was little room for women to be in the field as soldiers or spies.

Pam Jenoff’s new novel, The Lost Girls of Paris is set during and directly after World War II. While traveling through New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Grace Healy finds a suitcase containing the images of a dozen different women. On a whim, she takes the suitcase with her.

The owner of the suitcase is Eleanor Trigg, the leader of a ring of female spies during the war. Among the women she dispatched to Europe, twelve were sent as couriers and radio operators whose job was to aid the resistance. These women never returned home, whether or not they survived is a mystery.

Curiosity gets the best of Grace and she goes on a mission to find out who these women were and if they survived. Within the twelve women, Marie, a single mother captivates Grace. She is determined to find out if Marie lived or died for her country.

Based on the true stories of British women who served King and country, this book is a must read. It is riveting, heart stopping, heartbreaking and inspiring all in the same breath.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Things We Cherished Book Review

Love and war are the two things that cause rational human beings to do irrational things.

In Pam Chenoff’s 2011 book, The Things We Cherished, lawyer Charlotte Gold is trying to shake off the scars of the past. The only child of a mother who survived World War II and the Holocaust because she was on the Kindertransport, the last thing Charlotte needs back in her life is her cheat of an ex-boyfriend, Brian. He pleads with her to taken on the case of Roger Dykmans. Roger Dykmans is a wealthy businessman and the brother of a man who was martyred in the Holocaust. He has been accused of leading the Nazis to his brother and the innocent people his brother tried to save.

Charlotte will be working with Brian’s estranged brother, Jack. While they have professional and potentially romantic chemistry, their job is hampered by Roger’s refusal to prove that he is innocent. The only evidence Roger will provide is in a clock that has not been seen for decades. While Charlotte and Jack try to prove Roger’s innocence, they run into a long-held secret: the mutual love between Roger and Jewish his sister-in-law, Magda.

Like all of Pam Jenoff’s books, I loved it. It’s hard to balance a historical narrative with modern characters who are going through a journey of their own. But she finds a way to do that while keeping the tension and making sure that the details are on point.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Diplomat’s Wife Review

Writing a sequel or a prequel to a beloved narrative is akin to walking on a tightrope. The task of the writer is to continue the narrative and character development without going so far out of range that the audience feels like they have lost sight of the original tale. Some writers succeed at this task, others fail miserably.

Pam Jenoff is one of those writers who not only succeeds, but she takes both the narrative and characters in new directions that fit like a glove.

The Diplomat’s Wife is a sequel to Ms. Jenoff’s debut novel, The Kommandant’s Girl. In The Diplomat’s wife, the focus is not Emma Bau, the protagonist from The Kommandant’s Girl, but Marta Nederman, Emma’s best friend from the resistance. World War II is over and Marta has survived only by the grace of G-d. After Marta is rescued from Nazi captivity, she falls in love with Paul, an American serviceman. He is as head over heels in love with her and as she is with him. They quickly get engaged and make plans to marry.

But then Paul is killed and Marta finds herself pregnant. She marries Simon, a British diplomat and life seems to be returning to normal. But that normalcy is threatened by a communist spy within British Intelligence. Marta goes on a dangerous mission to out the spy, who maybe closer to her than she thinks.

Pam Jenoff is my new favorite writer. This book is nothing short of amazing. I love not just the detail of the period, but the danger that Marta knowingly puts herself in. I could not put it down and I seriously need a sequel.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Kommandant’s Girl Book Review

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.

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The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel Book Review

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.

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