In 1944, blond and blue-eyed Jewess Hadassah Benjamin feels abandoned by God when she is saved from a firing squad only to be handed over to a new enemy. Pressed into service by SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt at the transit camp of Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, she is able to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller. However, in order to survive and maintain her cover as Aric’s secretary, she is forced to stand by as her own people are sent to Auschwitz.
Suspecting her employer is a man of hidden depths and sympathies, Stella cautiously appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp. Aric’s compassion gives her hope, and she finds herself battling a growing attraction for this man she knows she should despise as an enemy.
Stella pours herself into her efforts to keep even some of the camp’s prisoners safe, but she risks the revelation of her true identity with every attempt. When her bravery brings her to the point of the ultimate sacrifice, she has only her faith to lean upon. Perhaps God has placed her there for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she is unable to save herself?
Can I just admit that I think retellings are generally cop-outs? To me, they can lack a certain amount of imagination. But. This. Book. I loved her retelling. It was just enough hints of Esther so that you could see the similarities (particularly with the names) and more than enough creativity on Kate Breslin’s side of things (to the point where I could not predict how things would turn out). A wonderful, engaging novel. It’s one of the many WWII novels that are coming out this year, but this one is a definite success.
What I liked:
Colonel Aric was my favorite person because he was so deliciously complex. Was he nice? Sometimes. Unstable? All the time. I loved that you couldn’t figure him out and that you didn’t always know who he would side with. For me, personally, he gave me a greater understanding of how Xerxes probably was in the Bible and the risk that Esther took in approaching him. I will say that his character development sped up towards the end, but he didn’t change the essence of who he is.
Stella/Hadassah was also a bit, unstable (emotionally). But, considering what she’s already lived through by this point, it makes a bit of sense. Generally speaking, I find heroines who are just amazingly beautiful to lack something, but here, her beauty was almost a character itself and just fit the narrative.
The secondary characters were wonderful. They were fully developed and each and every one of them tugged on my heart strings. Everyone knows the Jewish people really went through at that time, but oh how they went through.
Spiritually, Stella and Aric both have some heavy pasts and feel like God failed them to some degree. To watch them trust again is a process well worth going through.
What I didn’t like:
Again, it felt like things sped up towards the end.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. I connected with the characters and I cared about them. Constantly, I was asking myself what I would have done. Though this is a retelling, it’s also incredibly unique. I won’t tell you it’s fun, because there are some hard parts, but it’s well worth reading.
Romantic Scale: 8.7
**I received this novel from Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**