Final Discussion of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

those-who-save-usWelcome to the final discussion of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. We’ve had a tough time keeping on schedule for this one.  For this discussion, we’ll be focused on Chapters 46-the end. Please chime in below in the comments.

Were you surprised that Trudy and Rainer’s relationship moved beyond friendship?

SERENA: That was a surprise. I mean I saw the connection between them with the teaching and the history and her apologizing, but I had no idea it would go that far. It almost seemed like Trudy was looking for comfort and understanding from someone and since her mother didn’t give her those things, she turned to him. I didn’t think it would last long, though.

ANNA: It seems that they both needed comfort and understanding. I didn’t think it would last long, either, though I didn’t expect him to flee like that. I was heartbroken when Rainer said, “I am not meant to be this happy.” And following the story of his brother, that really drove home the point of how the past can sort of paralyze people. It was more poignant for me than with Trudy because Rainer describes how he consciously made the decision not to act, though one can hardly blame someone in that situation and especially not a child, whereas Trudy was too young to really remember what happened during the war, other than those small flashbacks of the bakery.

Ranier and Anna both carry guilt with them from WWII.  What are your thoughts on their efforts to deal with it? And do you think one is better off because of how they have chosen to cope?

ANNA:  Neither of them seem to have coped well. They seem to be getting by, but the guilt prevents them from truly moving on, as neither will allow themselves to be happy. Rainer may be able to talk about his trauma, but he runs away as soon as he feels the slightest bit of happiness with Trudy. And Anna has closed herself off from everyone, especially after not being able to explain her feelings about the Obersturmfuhrer to Jack.

SERENA: I agree, it seems like neither has been able to move forward.  I’m a little more hopeful where Rainer is concerned, since he at least is going to see his daughter.  I think Trudy definitely helped him.  She got him to talk about the past with someone, and that enabled him to seek comfort in her, someone who understands.  He does leave Trudy, but I think that’s for the best as she seems to need more time to get past all that she has learned by the end of the book.  Anna is still not talking, and I think that’s going to be bad for her in the long run.

What do you think Anna’s inability to put her feelings about the Obersturmfuhrer into words meant? Do you think she did love him in a way because he saved them? Do you think Jack did more to save them?

SERENA:  Anna’s inability to put her feelings for the Nazi into words is sad but definitely due to the trauma.  She was forced to be with him. While he helped them survive and live better than others, I’m not sure she loves him so much as she is grateful to him.  It’s also hard for her to reconcile what she knows of his behavior toward the prisoners and others and how he treated her — though there were definite times of nastiness between them.  Did Jack do more to save them?  Hmm, not sure.  I think he saved them from a life of being run out of town as conspirators and maybe possible action by the authorities that took over after the war, but it’s unclear whether that would have happened.

ANNA: I agree. Her response to Jack really did seem to be a response to the trauma, especially since she both “save” and “shame” are both on the tip of her tongue at the time. And the fact that it was related to trauma was all the more evident when the scenes she imagines of the Obersturmfuhrer when she and Jack are being intimate are the more violent episodes she experienced with him, not the few times it seemed the Obersturmfuhrer was playing house with her and Trudy.

I felt bad for Anna in that moment. It seemed Jack had legitimate feelings for Anna, but it also seems as though a lot got lost in the translation, that he either missed or ignored what Anna had experienced during the war and continued to struggle with. When Anna couldn’t give him the answer he needed to hear, he put the nail in the coffin of their marriage and shut Anna off forever. I wonder if he had been more understanding toward her in that moment (which of course would have been difficult for him, but we don’t know much of what he experienced), would Anna have been more open and had an opportunity to heal?

I do think it’s possible that Jack did more to save them. Even with the Obersturmfuhrer’s gifts of food, Anna and Trudy were still starving and barely surviving. He did save her in that he allowed them to live, but Anna would not have had much of a live in Weimar after the war, especially given the animosity of her neighbors.

Do you think Anna’s inability to talk about her resistance activities, her heroism, is a “punishment that fits the crime”?

SERENA: I’m not sure it’s even punishment or that she even sees it as such. Maybe others would view it that way.  I think her silence is just a way for her to leave it all in the past.  She doesn’t want to think about the resistance activities because that will only lead to thinking about the Obersturmfuhrer and all that occurred because of him and with him.  I think her punishment may be her broken relationship with her daughter.  By not talking about it, she’s created a prison through which her daughter cannot even reach her.  She’s alone even when she is with her daughter.  She’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness for that of her daughter, hoping that her own silence will enable Trudy to be free of the guilt and shame.

ANNA:  I agree, I think the punishment was her inability to experience happiness in her marriage and in her relationship with Trudy, and that staying silent is a means of leaving it behind. Maybe she thinks what she did in the resistance was so little in comparison to her shame? It’s hard to speculate since we see little of Anna in the last chapters of the book.

Mr. Pfeffer’s testimony helps Trudy in many ways, but how do you think it will affect Anna? Is there a brighter future for her?

ANNA:  I hope that Mr. Pfeffer can lead Anna toward healing, and I think there’s hope for anyone, so why not Anna? Of course, there is more pain she will have to face, namely the Obersturmfuhrer’s role in Max’s death. But maybe she will see how Mr. Pfeffer perceived her and understood her sacrifice and she can begin to forgive herself.

SERENA:  I’m hopeful about Anna’s healing if Mr. Pfeffer can reach her.  I think his perspective from that time would help her see how helpful her resistance efforts were.  I do agree that the death of Max and how he died will be tough for her, but it would likely provide her closure and might even help her reconcile her confused feelings for the Obersturmfuhrer.

What did you think about the end of the book?

SERENA:  The end of the book seems to leave so much open-ended. I’d like to think that it is open that way because there is hope for everyone in the future. That the opportunities for happiness are still there and that they are empowered now to reach out for them.

ANNA: I did like how the ending left the possibility of hope in place for both Anna and Trudy. However, I think Trudy’s meeting Mr. Pfeffer was a little too convenient in that Trudy was given the answers she needed without Anna having to tell her. I would’ve been more accepting of that had there been some kind of resolution between Trudy and Anna, even if Anna was still silent and Trudy talked to her about what she’d learned. I think that bit of interaction between mother and daughter at the end was missing, since their relationship was central to the entire story. But overall, I thought the novel was very well done given the enormous ground it covered.

SERENA: I do agree that some kind of interaction between mother and daughter would have been preferable, but I think it still enables Anna to keep her silence until she’s ready to move forward.

ANNA: That’s a good point. It’s just a tough topic to write about, and even if I wanted more closure, the ending was true to the characters.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments about your thoughts on the final section of the book.  Please chime in below and stay tuned for our next read-a-long in September.

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3 Comments

  1. Another successful readalong! I can’t wait to see what Wendy thought about the last section.

  2. I can’t wait to see what she thinks either!

  3. […] the Generations. Our discussions can be found here (beware of spoilers): Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4. Stay tuned for an interview with author Jenna Blum, which also will be featured on War Through the […]


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