Susan’s Book Talk: The Kommandant’s Girl


For every clunker I find for my book club, I manage to find some absolute keepers, too. This month, we read The Kommandant’s Girl, Pam Jenoff’s debut novel. Here’s a blurb, taken from the author’s website:

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.

Okay, how do I even begin to tell you guys about this book? Here are some thought fragments:

Utterly impossible to put down
The sort of book you get lost in
Impossible to keep from identifying with Emma/Anna

See a trend here? I’m writing this before tonight’s meeting, but the members of the book club I’ve spoken with thus far have all spoken highly of this book. They’ve all agreed it’s the good kind of fast read: the kind that sucks you in and you just want to read and read and read until it’s over. And then, dammit, you want more.

Best of all, part of the central conflict of this book is one that leads to such great discussions: if you were Emma (or Jacob), what would you do? How would you view Emma’s actions?

The ending is open. We don’t get to find out what happens to Emma, although the story of Lukasz, the rabbi’s son who the resistance passes off as Anna’s cousin, would make for a compelling story in its own right. Again, this will also make great discussion at the meeting tonight.

I’ve mentioned before that my book club tends to veer away from the Holocaust; when you get a group of Jewish women together, you’re bound to have someone whose ties cut a little too close to this period in history. But like A Thread of Grace, this is one book I’m glad we chose to read.

There is a follow-up that was just released in April. Called The Diplomat’s Wife, it’s the story of Marta, a secondary character in this book. I’ve already got it on my wishlist, even though from the summaries I’ve read, many of the themes parallel this book’s. We shall see…

In the meantime, don’t miss this one. I’m actually giving it to my vet tech next week, or I’d do a giveaway with it. Truly, I loved this book.



  1. Dana

    August 20, 2008 5:37 pm

    I too loved this book. Brings up all sorts of ethical questions.

  2. Leah Braemel

    August 20, 2008 6:22 pm

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book. I’m going to have to put it on my Wish List.

  3. Bob-kat

    August 20, 2008 6:30 pm

    High praise indeed. It sounds like a book with much to ponder. I think I’ll add it to my list too.BR/BR/Thanks for the well wishes. I cannot begin to tell you how awful I feel right now.

  4. Dar

    August 20, 2008 6:55 pm

    Great review. This books sounds really good-the type I like reading. It’s definitely going on the list.

  5. bunnygirl

    August 20, 2008 7:08 pm

    I read a lot of Holocaust memoirs and near-memoirs when I was younger. Not so much now. This one sounds like one for my list. I love stories with moral dilemmas– the trickier, the better.

  6. Susan Helene Gottfried

    August 20, 2008 10:35 pm

    This one is very tricky, indeed, my friend.

  7. Winter

    August 20, 2008 11:33 pm

    Not to be a dissenter, but I just don’t read those books anymore. I’m sure it’s an excellent book, but those types of stories never seem to hold my interest anymore. I can’t get into them. Actually, I can’t get into anything right now. I’m in a non-reading cycle again. I must have ADD or something.

  8. Breeni Books

    August 20, 2008 11:46 pm

    I’ve seen this one around, but it sounds wonderful! I’ll have to add it to my infinite wish list!

  9. Dori

    August 21, 2008 8:34 am

    This book sounds like an interesting read. I will have to check it out.

  10. Alice Audrey

    August 21, 2008 11:53 am

    It sounds intense. I’m not in the mood for that at the moment, but I’ll keep it in mind for when I am.

  11. Julia Smith

    August 21, 2008 11:55 am

    This sounds like a must-read for me, Susan. Really compelling!

  12. Sassy Mama Bear

    August 21, 2008 1:05 pm

    This is on my TBR list.

  13. Maddy

    August 21, 2008 2:44 pm

    Excellent. I love ambiguous endings and all I can manage at the moment is a ‘quick read.’BR/BR/You made me quite determined to join the library mystery book club again in September [when people are back at school]BR/Best wishes

  14. Rene

    August 21, 2008 2:48 pm

    I’d heard about this book and wondered. It sounded fascinating. Interesting that it was published by Mira. I’ll add it to my toppling TBR list.

  15. Crys

    August 21, 2008 6:11 pm

    brilliant. on the list.

  16. Chuck

    August 22, 2008 9:47 am

    Well, I’m not in your book club obviously, but it was fun to stop in and read this post. This book sounds exhilirating! So, hey long time no email or comments, huh. Soooo goood to see you yesterday (HA – I just looked and it was Sunday! Good grief, Charlie Brown) and appreciate you stopping by. It made me all warm and fuzzy. Hope your writing is taking off since you were over. Mine has really taken a turn for the good. I’m thrilled. I stopped visiting and blogging just because I was spending so much time reading posts and writing comments that I wasn’t focusing on my own stuff. BR/BR/Have a great weekend my friend. *smoochies*

  17. Carol

    August 24, 2008 10:11 pm

    What a great story! I may have to read this one.

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