Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: For Such a Time

One of the heralded heroes of the Bible, especially by young girls, is that of Esther.  An orphaned Jew, living with her Uncle in Persia thrown into a beauty contest of sorts to win the heart of a King whose temper had quickly banished his previous Queen.  Esther won his heart and the crown, but came to a critical situation when her people were threatened to be eliminated from Susa through an evil plan of the King's right hand man, Haman.  Though initially fearful, Esther was encouraged that perhaps she had been brought the palace Divinely "For Such a Time as This..." to save her people by her equally brave Uncle Mordecai.  Esther succeeded, and her beloved King was able to look beyond her heritage.  The Jewish people were saved and still celebrate this bravery each year through the holiday Purim.

Author Kate Breslin ties this fascinating, true story of love and courage with the desolation and sorrow of World War II's Nazi regime and the annihilation of the Jewish people by the Third Reich.  For Such a Time as This is a retelling of the story of Esther in the historical context of the ghetto's, concentration camps, and the fight to survive the hands of the SS soldiers.

It is important to note that this story, while contextually historical, is purely fiction.  The author is clear to state this at the end of the book and provides many examples of true events, people, and places that were used and/or pieced into her fictional tale.  Without giving away the ending, it was sad (though not surprising) that this story was only fictional and actually 'changed' historical events.  I am torn with my feelings towards this.  As much as I loved the story line and creative reach from Esther's story, I feel a little shameful that in actuality, the story of the Ghetto used in the book actually turned out much differently.  Each reader must decide the importance of this on their own.

The story Breslin presents is a gripping tale of an undiscovered Jew saved by a commander in the SS and then hoped to be a salvation for thousands of Jews living in the Ghetto.  "Stella" adapts to her new identity and ends up winning the heart of SS Kommandment Colonel Aric Von Schmidt.  This brings two lingering questions throughout the novel; Will Stella succeed in her attempt to save her people, and What will Aric do when Stella's real identity is discovered?

The literary aspects of the novel are engaging.  A quick storyline is drawn out with plot twists and changes in perspective from the main characters to minor ones.  The last third of the book had my heart racing and I had to finish it in one sitting as I could not go to bed until I found out what happened.  I was enveloped in a time and place and felt as though Stella, Morty, Joseph, and others truly came a live with Breslin's exceptional storytelling.

For brief criticism, I would say the German names (usually just personal pronouns) were very hard to read though as I have no German background/understanding, so in my mind I would skim over it and not try to pronounce it exactly in my head or it would have derailed the excellent story being told.  The first third I felt as though Breslin tried too hard in using exceptional language.  Reading through all of the extra adjectives, adverbs and seemingly obvious thesaurus use made it feel like I was reading through thick mud- it was hard work to get through the first few chapters.  However, this cleared up midway through the story.

Overall, this is an excellent novel.  The storytelling is fantastic- I truly appreciated how the story came alive, which is why it struck a strong nerve when I found how much truth had been twisted or lack thereof in relation to historical events.  If a reader can take the fictional account for what it is, realizing the heart of the author was not in changing history but maybe to draw from unwritten accounts of small acts of heroism we do not know about, then the story will fascinate you.  It is worth the read!

*I was given a copy of the novel by BethanyHouse of Baker Publishing in exchange for my honest review and opinion.