Book Review: Jacob’s Oath

Jacob's Oath coverThis is the summer of the the new arrivals.  Here is another gem I discovered in those lovely bookshelves at the front of the library, those shelves that allowed me to avoid climbing the staircase only a couple weeks after my knee surgery.  Yay for new arrivals!

It seems as though I am drawn to WWII historical fiction, but books written from unique perspectives.  The Pearl Diver (one of my favorites) was written from the point of view of a Japanese woman deeply affected by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  Tree of Heaven was narrated by both a Chinese soldier and his Japanese female servant, both prisoners of Russians in a remote viillage decimated by war.  Jacob’s Oath is the story of the first – and for a time, only – two Jews to return to Heidelberg following Germany’s surrender.

Jacob, the first to return, is the sole known survivor of the Holocaust, a refugee from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  He watched his beloved brother Maxie die at the hands of a particularly cruel and ruthless SS thug known as “the Rat” – a nickname bestowed more for his appearance than for his actions.  As Maxie’s life ebbs away, Jacob promises to avenge his brother and vows to kill the Rat.  His oath brings him to Heidelberg, not only his hometown, but the Rat’s as well.

Shortly thereafter, Sarah appears.  Though Sarah escaped the horrors of a concentration camp, her experience was no less horrific.  Hiding in a bombed-out basement in Berlin, she experienced near-starvation, freezing temperatures, and the kind of brutality toward women that turns your stomach inside out.  Only the kindness of a Russian soldier spares her from being raped and abused to death.  As this soldier takes her under his care, he provides not only the medical attention she so desperately needs, but also the means to travel to Heidelberg and begin her new life.

As Jacob and Sarah meet and eventually fall in love, we, like them, dare to hope for a happy new beginning.  But looming all along is Jacob’s oath, and the impact it will have on his new-found happiness.  To be perfectly honest, oftentimes in a book like this the storyline becomes so drawn-out and heavy-handed that I just stop caring.  But not this time.  I found myself just as anxious as Jacob, just as frustrated as Sarah, just as conflicted, just as anxious.  Gut-wrenching page after page, I found myself alternately enraged with the unfairness and injustice Jacob and Sarah endured, and thrilled and delighted with their resiliency and determination.  And while a truly “happy ending” was impossible, it felt complete.  Finished.  As if a literal and figurative chapter had closed and a new story was ready to be written.

Well played, Martin Fletcher.  Well played.