Sunday, March 16, 2014

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 7, 2014

In 1944, blonde 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?

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I wanted to like this book, I mean really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately Kate Breslin's For Such a Time failed to impress. There were moments, but taken as a whole, the story felt overwhelmingly contrived and incoherent.

Breslin's inability to effectively develop the relationship between Aric and Hadassah made it impossible for me to accept the foundation on which the entire narrative is built. An SS officer sharing a romance with a Jewess is a challenging premise to pull off, but I've seen it done and done well for that matter. Not to put too fine a point on my opinion, but I think Breslin bit off more than she could chew here. 

I also found the biblical references to Esther distracting. Breslin forced the comparison with everything from the prophecy to her leading lady's given name. I have deep and abiding respect for those who chose to share their faith through their writing, but like any other theme, I prefer it to flow naturally and don't appreciate being force fed religion in the guise of narrative fiction.

The pacing leaves something to be desired, starting slow and meandering to a rushed finale, but for all its faults, For Such a Time, isn't a complete wash. I really liked Breslin's portrayal of the concentration camp, its inhabitants and the scenes in which Aric interacts with other members of the SS. 

Readable, but not one of my favorite war era fictions. Preachy and lacking the authenticity I crave.  

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Stella turned at the colonel’s good-natured threat. His humor and consideration threw her o$-balance. It also bothered her that when his features relaxed, he was a handsome man. She preferred to maintain her view of him as the grim-faced killer whose presence alone sent armies running in the opposite direction.
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