Nineteen-year-old Emma Bau has been married only three weeks when Nazi tanks thunder into her native Poland. Within days Emma’s husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground, leaving her imprisoned within the city’s decrepit, moldering Jewish ghetto. But then, in the dead of night, the resistance smuggles her out. Taken to Krakow to live with Jacob’s Catholic aunt, Krysia, Emma takes on a new identity as Anna Lipowski, a gentile.
Emma’s already precarious situation is complicated by her introduction to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official who hires her to work as his assistant. Urged by the resistance to use her position to access details of the Nazi occupation, Emma must compromise her safety—and her marriage vows—in order to help Jacob’s cause. As the atrocities of war intensify, so does Emma’s relationship with the Kommandant, building to a climax that will risk not only her double life, but also the lives of those she loves.
This is my first Pam Jenoff book. I know very little about the kind of books she puts out other than they’re usually historical romance. I have been attracted to stories where the romance is inherently founded on hate. And there could never be a more contemptuous romance than that of a Jewish girl and a German officer.
Emma Bau has only been married to her husband Jacob for merely six weeks before the Germans invaded Poland. Forced to flee, Jacob severed ties with Emma for her safety. She found herself imprisoned in a commune with her people. There, she saw just the kind of life that was in store for them; where disease and hunger slowly killed them one by one. In the dead of night, she was taken by a member of the resistance to live with Jacob’s aunt. An upstanding Polish citizen who was clandestinely helping Jacob’s cause. Through one of her dinner parties, Emma meets the enigmatic Kommandant Richwalder. The obvious attraction helped convinced the resistance to recruit Emma to their cause. By working with the kommandant, she could monitor confidential messages that passed through the kommandant’s desk. As the monstrosity of Hitler intensified, so did the growing relationship between Emma and Richwalder. And she would do anything to help the cause, if only to save those that she loves.
The problem that I have with this book is rooted to the fact that Emma didn’t seem to have given much thought as to who Richwalder was. The instant attraction that she felt didn’t really make that much sense to me. There was no ingrained hatred, mostly passing thoughts where she had to remind herself how many Jewish people where dying in the hands of the Germans such as the kommandant. Other than that, it was instant lust all around.
In Emma’s defence, the kommandant seemed to be cut from a different cloth than those of the other officers. We see flashes of guilt, and distaste for what was going on in his watch. Perhaps that was why it was easy for her to fall into bed with him.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything gripping about this book. I did not hold my breath in suspense. She was tasked to retrieve documents that was pertinent to the cause, but the reader never did find out of the consequence of her missions. The most frightening thing that happened here was when she witnessed the pregnant wife of a Rabbi get shot. That was hard to take, but since it happened in the beginning of the novel, the reader had plenty of time to recover. Not that I looked forward to reading the atrocities of the war. I just felt like it was not a good representation of what really happened.
Still, this does not diminish my interest with her books. In fact, I picked up a couple of more in the same vein. I’m looking forward to reading them only to get a better grasp on her story telling. I really hope I’ll like them more than I did with this one.