What It’s About
Told in alternating point-of-view, this is the story of a Holocaust survivor, her granddaughter, an ex-Nazi soldier, and a FBI agent. The focus is mostly on Sage, the granddaughter of a survivor, and Leo, the FBI agent. The stories of the Holocaust survivor (Minka) and the ex-Nazi (Josef) are the focal point of the plot, they are secondary characters.
The novel focuses on Josef’s request for Sage to help him die. To convince Sage, Josef tells her about his time in Europe during World War II, and more importantly, his time at Auschwitz, where her grandmother was imprisoned. Sage contacts the FBI about Josef, to turn him into the War Criminals division. She wants to turn Josef over to the FBI instead of killing him.
Leo (the FBI agent) and Sage go to visit her grandmother, who tells her story about her time in Europe during the War. In the end, Sage has a choice to make about Josef after hearing her grandmother’s heartbreaking story.
I think this is one of Picoult’s best written novels. The narrative was fluid and there were some great lines. In all, it really was a great story.
The content – as with anything – was hard to stomach at times. However, the power of the novel lies in the graphic (and realistic) stories that Josef and, especially, Minka tell to the reader. Picoult really goes in depth with the details of Minka’s time growing up in Poland – from what life was like before the Germans invaded to moving to the Ghetto, to finally being shipped off to Auschwitz. My heartstrings were tugged on more than one occasion as Picoult relays the deaths that Minka experienced with those closest to her. And while this was all necessary for the development of Josef’s story to convince Sage, it really paints a hard picture for the reader to stomach. There were several times that I wanted to skip ahead, but I was too invested in the story to really want to miss any of it.
Narrative-wise, Picoult has a solid narrative with the interlocking characters. The focus is really on Sage, but each other character adds to her story. Everything works together for the final outcome – which, in total Picoult style is a twist.
This isn’t the story so much of a Holocaust survivor and an ex-Nazi, it’s the story of humanity and morals. Picoult, once again, places you in protagonist’s shoes to ask, “What would you do?” And the answer, as always, isn’t simple.