Women Writers Wednesday 7/22/15

Today’s review of some gripping historical fiction comes to us from Natasha Claire Orme. The book she has chosen is The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff.

THE KOMMANDANT'S GIRL

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I settled myself down over the weekend and decided to read The Kommandant’s Girl. It had been recommended to me by a friend, and because I had nothing else to do, I thought it would be a good idea. It’s not my usual kettle of fish. In fact, recently I’d gotten myself in a bit of a rut. So I started out a little sceptical, but perhaps thought it was time to change my ways.

A page or two in, I wasn’t really feeling it and I was finding it hard to focus on the story. Hours later, though, I closed the book and put it down, finished. I think this was one of the very first times I had sat and read a whole book in one sitting. And do you know what happened the next day? I went and found the sequel, sat down, and read that in one sitting, too.

The Kommandant’s Girl is the spellbinding story of Emma Bau, a Jewish girl in the Polish city Krakow during the Second World War. Forced to live in the Jewish Ghetto outside the city, Emma is eventually smuggled out by the Resistance to live with her absent husband’s cousin, Krysia. Under the pretence of caring for an orphaned Jewish boy, Emma, now Anna Lipowski, is given an offer she can’t refuse. She becomes the personal assistant to the Kommandant, the most powerful man in the city, and finds herself facing conflicting emotions.

This book is truly outstanding. Jenoff has a natural gift for storytelling and conveying human emotion. I loved Emma and how real she felt to me. The book, told through her eyes in the present tense, feels very real. The relationship that blossoms between Emma and the Kommandant is one of heartache.

Jenoff attacks the traditional issues of the holocaust and is even able to avoid the clichés associated with this period of history. She takes a hard look at the prejudices and injustices of the holocaust as well as the suffering and the helplessness. But these aren’t at the forefront of the story; instead they float around in the subplot and contribute to the overall atmosphere. The conflict and tension apparent throughout the novel is one of its main driving forces and will have you, as a reader, sitting on the edge of your seat. Each new chapter, each new page brings with it more chaos, more problems, and a greater amount of heartache as things go from bad to worse in Emma’s struggle to survive.

I was completely captivated by Jenoff’s style of storytelling and her detailed descriptions, an attribute to her experience as a historian. I loved the sense of adventure that she creates and the romance. For me, it was this forbidden romance that had the biggest impact. I loved the tenderness and the gentleness of the characters, particularly the Kommandant. He gave the impression of this dark and mysterious man who was worthy of admiration as well as fear. The dynamic between the couple felt electric and had me reading each page more quickly than the last.

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Natasha Claire Orme is a German-born Brit with a love for the unusual and a thirst for culture. She loves to explore in her writing and experiment with different styles. Her blog is full of insightful writing trips, food for thought, and encouraging tidbits from the best and brightest. She focuses her efforts on helping others better their writing and unlocking the mysteries of a novelist. She loves what she does and can’t stop writing. Her adventures and romances are what keep the day going! She’s a book addict and a petrol head.

www.natashaorme.com

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To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.

The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.

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A Valentine Story

My grandfather Joe, on my dad’s side, fought alongside his brothers and cousins for the US in WWII.  He found himself in multiple theaters: at Normandy, in Northern Africa, in Italy.  And unlike many men of that generation, he never shied away from telling us stories about the war, but he picked his tales carefully.  We heard anecdotes about the lighter side of things, such as the small black goat they bought from a man on the side of the road; they named the kid Midnight and made him their company’s mascot for a while.

My favorite story, though, was the one he and my grandmother, Rose, told us about how they met and married.  Seeing as Valentines’ Day approaches with relentless haste and this is such a sweet tale, I want to share it with you.  My grandmother isn’t alive anymore, and my grandfather is in his nineties, and now just feels like the right time to commit this story to writing.

My grandfather was on a thirty-day furlough from the army and was headed home to Houston.  It was the mid-1940s, and he’d had several tours in the war already.  He came back stateside to the northeast and then took a long train ride down to San Antonio, where he would need stay at the base for processing for three days before continuing on home.  On the train to Texas, he sat across from a man he didn’t know, but who had “the map of Lebanon on his face.”  Always happy to meet any ethnic brethren, my grandfather introduced himself, and on that journey, they became friends.

I don’t remember the other Lebanese man’s name, but he lived in San Antonio, and he invited my grandfather to come home with him for real food instead of staying at the base the whole time.  He didn’t have to ask twice.

Now, across the street from that hospitable gentleman lived the Sacres, another Lebanese family.  The Sacres had six grown children, three boys and three girls; their boys had been in the war, too, and they had a kindly habit of inviting the Lebanese GIs coming through San Antonio over for dinner.  When they found out their across-the-street neighbor was home and that he had a friend with him, the dinner invitation couldn’t come fast enough.

The Sacre daughters — Mary, Sarah, and Rose — were all beautiful as could be, and they were polite to the soldiers at dinner.  And afterward the young people all went out bowling.

(Yes, bowling.  Fun Sacre pastime that, like playing Canasta, lasted all the way to my generation.)

Over the next three days, while my grandfather was in town, they all continued to meet and go out, but it was clear that he had a particular interest in Rose.  The oldest sister, Mary, told Rose she should date him.  He was good-looking and from a well-heeled family in Houston.  My grandmother was ambivalent, largely because when the soldiers had come for dinner that first night, my grandfather had kept staring at her.

“I was admiring your dress,” he insisted when they told me this story.

“You were looking at my chest,” she scolded him.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were,” she said.  She turned to me. “I had on this white eyelet dress, and it was pretty, I guess.”

“Very pretty,” my grandfather corrected her.  She shrugged, but even more than fifty years later, she still blushed cheerfully about it.

So in those three days, the young folks managed to see each other quite a bit.  Joe told Rose he’d be back in a couple of weekends, and he hoped she’d go out with him again.

“Okay,” she responded casually, but with a very nice smile.

When she told her older sister Mary about it, Mary was very keen that Rose go out with him.  But my grandmother could be a bit stubborn and never liked being told what to do.  She acted noncommittal and advised Mary that she should go out with him instead.  Well, of course that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, Joe came back to San Antonio and took Rose to a dance.  He told her he wanted to marry her.  I’m not sure what had changed in my grandmother’s mind in those two weeks, but she agreed.  While my grandfather was on leave, the war ended, and he was discharged from the army so he could come back to Houston and make his life as a grocer.

And as a husband.  A couple of months later, Joe and Rose married.  They went to the beach for a little honeymoon.  They lived in Houston, had seven children, and — though it wasn’t any more perfect than any other marriage, and in some ways it was rockier at times — they made a pretty good life of it.

My grandmother passed away from cancer in 2001, a few weeks after they celebrated their anniversary.  It was a party around her sickbed.  She was lucid, we all managed to be cheerful, and there were so many friends and family members around we couldn’t all fit.  The cake was enormous, and my grandfather held her hand all afternoon.

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Last year around this time, I suggested you should write a love note to someone — anyone — for Valentines’ Day.  I think this ought to be an annual tradition.  Go ahead, write a love note, write a poem if you like, write a card.  Do something wonderful for someone you care about.

Here, Dear Readers, is a valentine for you.

My daughter made this.  Pretty cool, huh?  She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend.  I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.
My daughter made this. Pretty cool, huh? She made a different valentine for every teacher and classmate and friend. I wish I could take pictures of all of them to show you.