Publishing Date: February 26th, 2013
Genre: Adult Contemporary
Pages: 480 pgs
Source: ARC given to me from Simon & Schuster Canada for an honest review
Summary from Goodreads:
Sage Singer, who befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone favorite retired teacher and Little League coach and they strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.
What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?
I love, love, LOVE Jodi Picoult! I know that her books can sometimes be a little formulaic in the sense that they are usually told from more than one perspective and there is also usually a legal component and a moral dilemma. I say if things aren't broken then there is no reason to fix them. Obviously Picoult's books are widely popular and her formula is working. The thing I love about her novels are that they always leave me questioning my morals and what I would do in certain situations. They make me look within and question things that I always thought I had firm opinions on. This book is no different and I honestly think this one may be the best Picoult book yet. This novel is about a young woman named Sage who is of Jewish descent, who makes an unlikely friend in a 90 year old man at a grief counseling group. After forming a friendship this elderly man confesses that he was once a Nazi in the Holocaust and was posted at one of the most brutal concentration camps in history, Auschwitz. Sage is unsure how to proceed, considering her grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. The tale weaves together the stories of Sage, her grandmother and her new friend the Nazi.
We all have certain buzzwords that make us read a story and the Holocaust is one of mine. I don't know exactly what that means. Perhaps it makes me a little sick but I really enjoy reading about this time period. I think it's because even though all these horrible things were happening all around you did catch glimpses of just how kind and loving people can be. Within these horrible, unimaginable stories from the past, whether fictional or historical, there is a sense of survival, a sense of banding together and a sense of agency.
This story is no different. The sense of agency really shows in this novel. While there wasn't a lot of choice in some of the situations, the characters found a way to survive and ways to help their friends. Without giving too much away I can think of two examples. Both take place when Sage's grandmother is telling her story of surviving the Holocaust. The first is that Sage's grandmother helped her best friend to have a little more food and a little more heat in the middle of winter. While working in the office of an SS officer, she would sneak her friend into the office when the SS officer was our running errands. This really helped her friend and gave her friend a little hope.
The second is when the SS officer saves Sage's grandmother from being killed. While still maintaining the facade of being in charge, he orders Sage's grandmother to the infirmary when he knew a high ranking SS officer was visiting the concentration camp. This high ranking officer was known to kill all Jewish people in certain high ranking positions at the camp. He moved Sage's grandmother to save her.
I really like how Picoult is able humanize the face of a man, who others would describe as a monster. Don't get me wrong, I do not think that what any of the Nazis did was alright. In fact it was worse than alright; however I do think that a few of the men in the SS joined because they thought they had no other choice. It was either join or be killed. Again, there were many monsters during this horrible time in history. There were also many people who allowed things to go on and did nothing to help the situation. This may have been because they were scared or because they weren't sure what to do but the fact remains that they did nothing to help.
Anyhow, I digress; back to the book. Picoult is able to to once again surprise me. She can create characters like no other. She develops each and every character intricately, including the secondary characters. I ate this book up like candy and I couldn't say anything bad about this book. Kudos Jodi for writing about a topic that is not only heartbreaking but also written about often. She brings a new question to the topic and she does so beautifully. Go out and get a copy of this novel as soon as you can.