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As a lover of history, I often read fiction that has some sort of historical grounding. Either they are set in the past or reference to a particular moment. I picked up Kommandant's girl in Tesco a year ago when studying my A-Levels. In A-Level history I had to (annoyingly) once again study the world wars with particular focus on WW2. I had studied this to death in previous years and so the thought of reading a history textbook on the war did not appeal, however when I saw a novel on the shelves of Tesco's which had the symbol of the Nazi Swastika on a man's jacket I decided to pick it up. I hoped that reading fiction on WW2 would hopefully make me more enthusiastic about studying this momentous event again. I loved this book and found that I couldn't put it down easily. Unfortunately this did not rekindle any romance I once had with the Second World War but did get me very interested in the polish resistant movement.
September 1939. Overnight, Jewish nineteen-year-old Emma Bau's world is turned upside down when Germany invades Poland. And after only six weeks of marriage, her husband Jacob, a member of the resistance, is forced to flee.
Escaping the ghetto, Emma assumes a new, Christian, identity and finds work at Nazi headquarters. As secretary to the charismatic Kommandant Richwalder, Emma vows to use her unique position to gather intelligence for the resistance, by any means necessary.
"Krakow, the city of Kings, was no longer mine. I had become a foreigner in the place I had always called home."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master's in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.
She says of her debut novel, The Kommandant's Girl: "Communism had recently ended in Eastern Europe, and it was a tremendously exciting time--the local Jewish community was truly free for the first time since before World War II. As a result, there was something of a Jewish cultural renaissance, which defied all that the Nazis and Communists had tried to do, and served as a testimony to the human spirit. Also during this period, many painful issues of the Holocaust were beginning to be openly explored. I was profoundly affected by my experiences and by the many close relationships I developed with both Jewish and Gentile Poles, and for several years after my return to the United States I had wanted to write a novel that reflected these experiences."
This is what I love about the novel. Pam Jenoff never set out to be an author but it was the stories she heard in Poland by these survivors that set this book in motion. It is a story that has been inspired by true voices which makes it that bit more poignant and effective.
If you want to find out more about the author Pam Jenoff then her website is:
I do not find myself often able to cry with books, which my sister often does. So, for me to cry at the ending of the Kommandant's girl was really something. The emotion in this book is so detailed and complex, with the main character Emma (or Anna as she is also known) suffering not only great loss but also suffering with the confusion of falling in love with the enemy. We as readers can feel her agony and pain as she tries to get closer with the charismatic Kommandant in order to steal information for the resistance movement in Poland.
Without trying to give too much away, the choices Emma has to make are so difficult that I was even unsure of what I wanted her to do or what the outcome should be.
Emma shows herself to be an incredibly strong person. This is shown through her beginning her life again and risking it to help her race and family. She does not run away scared, she fights her fear by working for the Nazi headquarters in Poland. She desperately tries to protect the family she has and even cares for those that she does not have connections with.
I feel, know that I have visited a lot of the sites mentioned in the book, that I can safely say that Pam Jenoff carefully and (undoubtedly) painstakingly captured the essence of the beautiful city that is Krakow. Considering Jenoff conversed with surviving Poles you can tell that her account of war-time Krakow is painted accurately. Reading the book made me more and more want to visit the former capital of Poland and I wasn't disappointed with what I saw as it matched Jenoff's descriptions wonderfully!
This book is a one of as it deals with a subject of the war that I have not really read into much, the occupation and resistance movement in Poland. This book truly fascinated me and made me look into this topic in more detail. I couldn't put this book down as I was so connected with the central protagonist, Emma that I had to find out what had happened to her. Even the ending left me wondering.
I hope they make this brilliant novel into a film!!
WOULD I RECOMMEND?:
I would definitely recommend this fantastic and poignant book to anyone interested in either doomed love stories or historical fiction. This is a really beautiful book both in storyline and the way it is written. For anyone who has visited the beautiful and historic city of Krakow (once the capital of Poland and where the Polish monarchy used to reside) then this book is a much for you. It describes the city so thoroughly and in such a way that you will not only want to revisit but you will feel like you are already there.
I give this gem of a book five out of five stars. An excellent debut novel from Pam Jenoff!
Thank you for reading.