Week 1: Discussion of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

those-who-save-usWelcome to the delayed discussion of week 1’s reading in Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. We apologize, but sometimes real life just gets in the way.

For this discussion, we’ll be focused on Prologue through Chapter 15. Please chime in below in the comments.

When we meet Trudy and Anna there seems to be a significant distance between them. What were your initial impressions of their relationship?

ANNA:  They do seem like people who haven’t talked in years, maybe not ever. The fact that Trudy was so glad to leave the town where she grew up says volumes, as does the fact that no one came to the get-together after Jack’s funeral. It’s hard to reconcile the older, silent Anna with the young Anna who chased and hid Max and happily dreamed about their life together. It’s obvious that whatever Anna had endured during the war (and what we’ve read so far only scratches the surface of her experience, I’m sure) was devastating and took its toll. I’m curious as to her relationship with Trudy as a child and why they seem so distant from one another, whether it’s just that her mother kept things from her that she was too young to remember or if they had a falling out of some sort in the past.

SERENA: I agree that it seems like they haven’t talked in a long time, and it is clear that Trudy is not very fond of her mother. It also doesn’t seem like she’s fond of her father, Jack, right from the outset. It makes you wonder what the family dynamic is here. If her mother never talked to her, then what was her relationship with her father like. I love the scene where she’s speeding out of town — seems like she’s still running from her family and the past.

I was sad to see that no one came to the house after the funeral, but that seems very telling about what kind of life Anna has lived in the United States with this husband, Jack.

Do you think that no one showing up at the funeral was expected by Anna?  How do you think she feels about it?

ANNA:  It probably was frustrating for Trudy not to be able to get any answers about the man she assumes is her father based on the picture. It obviously means a lot to her, considering that she takes the photo with her when she visits her childhood home for the last time. I’m sure the secrets surrounding the photo didn’t help her relationship with Anna and Jack.

Neither Anna nor Trudy seemed overly surprised that no one showed up at the post-funeral gathering. It’s hard to say how Anna felt about it at this point, as we haven’t yet seen how Jack fit into her life. But it seems as though she was resigned to it at any rate.

SERENA:  I agree.  I don’t think either of them was surprised by the absence of the town at the gathering following the funeral.  I don’t think Anna felt much about it.  It seems like she’s disconnected from the town and her daughter.

What did you think about Anna and Max’s relationship? Did it feel genuine to you?

SERENA:  As for Max and Anna’s relationship, it seemed odd at the beginning, but I reminded myself that the Nazi crackdown on Jews had already begun and that Anna was not even supposed to visiting Max’s business, let alone playing chess with him. I’m not sure what the attraction between the two was initially, except maybe the forbidden nature of the relationship. It really seemed like a frenzied lust to me, particularly the kisses and the other goings on behind the stairs.

ANNA:  To me, it seemed like Anna did like him, but I wonder how much of her wanting to further their relationship was about defying her father or gaining some independence. Max was resistant to their relationship, (coming from an older and wiser perspective, maybe) but I agree that the sexual aspect of their relationship seemed more about lust, as well as their isolation and loneliness.

SERENA:  I agree, it did seem like Anna wanted to move that relationship forward in defiance of her father and to gain some independence.  She’d basically been her father’s maid and cook since her mother passed away.

What do you think about Trudy’s reaction in her class to their discussion about the German women consorting with the Nazis because they had no choice? Do you think Trudy believes this about her mother, that she had no choice?

SERENA:  I think Trudy finds herself in a trap of her own making.  First she doesn’t share personal stuff with students, but here she has done it subconsciously.  Second, she’s forcing her students and herself to see what the other side of the collaborator equation might be like.  I’m not sure she believes this was her mother’s situation or not, but I think she would like it to be.

ANNA:  I’m inclined to believe that the core of the story will be about the secret surrounding the picture and Anna’s motivations in whatever situation resulted in that picture being taken.

SERENA:  I agree; it will definitely be a main crux of the story.

Why do you think Anna believes her own bedroom to be impersonal and not her own? Do you think the absence of her mother has made her feel like a stranger in her own home?

ANNA:  It seems like nothing in Anna’s bedroom was hers, that it’s full of memories of the past. Maybe Anna’s mother’s absence has made her feel like a stranger in her home, but I think it might have more to do with the fact that Anna’s father doesn’t view her as his child so much as his maid and caregiver. He doesn’t show her any love or affection, other than when he is pleased with what she has done for him. And his focus on her future and marriage seems to be in what an alliance could do for him. Plus, she pushed away all of her friends after her mother’s death, as she took on the care of her father. Her isolation and loneliness seem more tied to him than her mother, in my opinion.

SERENA:  I think you’re probably right that it does have more to do with her father, but I wonder about her comments about the stuff in her room.  It seems to show that her relationship with her mother was distant too, just like Trudy’s with Anna.  Many kids will look on their childhood bedrooms with fondness and memories, but you don’t get that sense here.

ANNA:  I think you have a point there. The little that has been said about her mother didn’t seem to indicate that they were really close.

Do you like Anna and Trudy at this point?

SERENA:  I honestly don’t like either one yet.  They’re both mysterious to me.  I need to know more.

ANNA:  I agree. I can see some intriguing qualities about Anna, especially when she takes care of Max and wants to help with the resistance. I feel bad for Trudy in that her mother is so distant and there are so many things she’d like to know about her past. But at this point, I don’t feel an emotional attachment to them.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments about your thoughts on this first section.  What are your impressions of Anna and Trudy?

Please join us for our second discussion on Monday, June 19 for Chapters 16-29

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8 Comments

  1. I hope people join us, but if not, we’ll have a great discussion regardless. 🙂

  2. Did my comment not take? I will try again tomorrow. Computer is being fickle.

  3. Let’s try this again . . .

    I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years. Thank you for motivating me to read it. 🙂

    I was struck by the distance between mother and daughter right off the bat. I wonder how much of it is because of Anna closing herself off from those around her to protect her secrets, whether from guilt or shame or what have you. And maybe even in an effort to protect her daughter from what Anna thinks is too painful a reality for her. I did wonder if the two women had a falling out at some point–maybe even because of the distance at which they keep each other.

    It made me sad no one wanted to come to the house after the funeral, but it was offered a slightly more clear picture of Anna in some ways. It’s really what gave me the idea that she’s closed herself off from others–perhaps built a wall to protect herself? It’s made me even more curious about what she’s been through. I don’t think Anna nor Trudy were surprised no one came to the house after the funeral, but I do think Trudy, at least, hoped someone might.

    As for Max and Anna . . . My first thought was perhaps it was a crush on Anna’s part. He’s older and he seems to really listen to her. She has no friends, or really anyone else. I’m sure knowing her father would disapprove played some part in that. Max was reluctant, but I imagine having a young, beautiful young woman interested in you would be hard to resist, especially when you are lonely yourself and unsure about what the future will hold–even fearful. As you both suggested, lust definitely plays into it as well. Did they love each other? I suppose in their own way. In different circumstances and a different time and place, I doubt they would have.

    The class . . . I thought that was such an interesting scene, especially in terms of giving us insight into Trudy. I think she wants to know about her mother’s past. Maybe she’s asked Anna–and maybe that’s part of the distance between them. Anna won’t give up any information and Trudy is tired of trying to knock her mother’s wall down. But that’s just speculation. It could be that Trudy never asked because of an unspoken rule of not asking about the past. I think she truly wants to know, wants to understand what her mother went through. She wants to believe the best even in possibly the worst of situations.

    After reading these first few chapters, I definitely want to more. I feel myself more sympathetic to Anna’s situation than I do Trudy’s at this point. I don’t know if it’s because we know more of Anna’s story. I wish Trudy would make more of an effort with her mother, especially given her advanced age. But, then, I don’t know their history together, not completely. And yet, I probably can relate more to Trudy than Anna in other ways. I just have to think of my relationship with my father–and to a lesser degree my mother.

    Anyway, that’s what I have for you right now. I will try to join in on Friday for the discussion of the next part and not be so late to join the party next time!

  4. My first reply to your comment didn’t post either! Wonder what’s going on with that!

    Thanks for coming back to the post, Wendy, and for joining us in the discussion. I’ll try to remember what I’d said the first time I commented.

    I agree that it’s easier to be more sympathetic toward Anna at this point. She definitely didn’t have an easy time during the war, and it’s easy to understand how she might close herself off from everyone to protect her secrets. I wonder what will prompt her to tell them.

    This is a different kind of dual narrative than I’m used to, since Trudy appears in both story lines, even if she was too young to remember what happened during the war.

    I agree that it was likely a crush for Anna, but I’m not surprised their relationship was taken to the next level given their loneliness and isolation. I think you’re right that they would not have been together under other circumstances.

    I’ll be starting the next section tonight and am looking forward to it.

  5. I hope we can post the next discussion on Friday. I’m woefully behind again. It might be another Monday posting. LOL

    I do see how Max and Anna probably would have never gotten together under other circumstances. It was a byproduct of the war in many ways.

    Trudy is less sympathetic, and I do believe that’s because we don’t see her side of the story with regard to her mother as yet. I want to know what happened…I need to get back to this.

  6. Monday would be a good day for me, too, since I’m behind as well. So let’s just plan on that, LOL.

  7. Anna, sounds great. Maybe we should just revise the schedule to Mondays. LOL

  8. Sure, feel free!


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