Monday, March 15, 2021

Book Review: Send for Me

By Jami Denison

As the world reels from the sight of the U.S. Capitol under siege, many people wonder how a subset of Americans can believe what is clear to most to be outrageous lies. And what are the consequences of these beliefs? With Nazi flags being waved in the sanctuary of democracy, it’s a strong reminder that the lies that were spread in Germany in the 1930s resulted in the deaths of 75 million people worldwide. We know we’re living through historical times. Did the Jews of Berlin know that, too?

In her latest book, Send for Me, author Lauren Fox has strayed from her usual humorous women’s fiction to write a deeply personal novel. In her author’s note, she explains that Send For Me was based on letters she had found from her great-grandmother to her grandmother. Her grandparents had left Germany with her mother in 1938. Lauren grew up feeling enormously loved by them; at the same time she sensed that questions about Germany were off-limits. She found the letters, written in German, after her grandparents had died, and worked with a German professor to translate them. Without the knowledge to turn the letters into a non-fiction book, Fox decided to write a novel instead. But she includes passages from those letters to hold two narratives together. 

The book goes back and forth between Annelise, a young woman working in her parents’ bakery in 1930s Germany, and her granddaughter Clare, a Wisconsin woman who shares a tight bond with her own mother, but is falling in love with an English man. Most of the story is Annelise’s, though, and rightly so. It quickly moves from Annelise’s dreamy teenage years to her marriage and motherhood, all the while the drums of hate grow louder. Annelise, her husband and parents don’t know what to do. Should they leave? Can they? Or will all this blow over? 

As a voracious reader of World War II fiction, I’m very familiar with scenes of brown shirts and uniformed SS soldiers. The difference in Fox’s book is the intimate scenes of casual hatred for Annelise from people who’d once been close friends, as the lies about Jews told by the Nazi regime took hold in the general populace. Those scenes were chilling and familiar; a reminder of the arguments I’ve had with people who insisted that Democrats were running a child sex ring. 

The language is gorgeous; Fox finds a way of describing mundane details so they jump out, like a splash of color in a black-and-white painting. My only quibble with the book is that I wish Fox had given dates every time she jumped forward or back in the narratives. I found myself using the age of Annelise’s daughter in order to calculate where the story was in the context of the World War II timeline. And Clare’s story also takes place decades earlier than I thought. 

While the book doesn’t end as much as stop, that decision is understandable. Without knowing the full story behind her great-grandparents’ lives, Fox leaves the reader with the same questions she had. In her readers’ note, Fox says that it took her 25 years from the time she found the letters until she found a way into the story. It was definitely worth the wait. 

Thanks to Alfred A. Knopf for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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