March 2007 Debut of the Month
This gripping first novel by Pam Jenoff is the moving story of a young Polish Jewess in war-torn Krakow, forced to make a choice almost as difficult as Sophie’s (Sophie’s Choice – William Styron). She risks great danger and her new marriage in order to help the resistance, of which her husband is a key member. Her dilemma is not just a moral but an emotional one as she navigates a City torn in two: her parents imprisoned in the ghetto, her husband vanished and herself, landed with a motherless three-year old and working for a high-ranking Nazi officer. The author spent several years living in Krakow and researched her subject well and it shows – the City is beautifully depicted and the tension of living in it during that era tangible.
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Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff
Nineteen year-old Emma Bau has only been married for three weeks when the Nazis invade her native Poland. After her husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground as part of the resistance movement, Emma soon finds herself imprisoned in the ghetto with her parents. There she meets one of the resistance leaders and with his help, she is able to escape the ghetto and live under an assumed, non-Jewish identity.
Emma’s already precarious situation is complicated by her introduction to Kommandant Georg Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official who insists that Emma come to work for him as his assistant. In this position, Emma has the opportunity to provide information to the resistance movement and potentially help her still-imprisoned parents. To do so, however, she must become perilously close to the Kommandant, a troubled man with a dark secret whose romantic intentions are clear. Emma makes the difficult decision to become involved with the Kommandant and, as their relationship intensifies, she is forced to acknowledge her own undeniable feelings for him. Desperately, Emma wrestles with questions of loyalty and duty until at last she is able to locate information sought by the resistance movement regarding the Nazi liquidation of the ghetto. Spurred by this information, the resistance undertakes the fateful bombing of a Nazi café, unleashing a chain of events that will change Emma’s life, and the lives of those she loves, forever.
Based in part on actual events, The Kommandant's Girl is a compelling tale of love and courage in a dangerous and desperate time. Unique in voice and evocative in historical detail, the novel’s widespread appeal stems not only from its eternally popular subjects of World War II and the Holocaust, but also from its timeless themes of hope, struggle and defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.
'...luminous... (a) breathtaking debut...' - Publisher's Weekly starred Review'
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.
Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. 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.
Jenoff remains involved in Polish-Jewish issues by writing articles and participating in a number of organizations. She has been honoured by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, served on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey, been appointed as a fellow to the Salzburg Seminar (Social and Economic Dimensions of Human Rights), advised the Auschwitz Jewish Centre and is a member of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America.
Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff is now employed as an attorney in Philadelphia, where she also does pro bono and civic work focusing on at-risk youth, hunger relief and homelessness. The Kommandant’s Girl is her first novel.
Photograph © Dominic Episcopo
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