Before we left on our cycling trip in Europe I downloaded three books on my Kindle, one for each of the countries we would travel through.
My German book was Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. Trudy is a Minneapolis history professor searching for the truth about her childhood. She won’t learn anything from her mother Anna who stubbornly refuses to talk about the past. We find out Trudy’s father was a Jewish doctor captured by the Nazis. Anna becomes the mistress of a German military man in order to save Trudy’s life. After the war an American serviceman marries Anna and brings her and Trudy to the United States. Trudy believes she is the daughter of the SS officer, who she can vaguely remember. This knowledge colors her whole life. Things change when Trudy undertakes a history project interviewing German war survivors living in America. I chose the classic Heidi by Johanna Spyri for my Switzerland book. I had not read it since my childhood. Heidi was written in the 1880s and I wondered if Heidi was the inspiration for female heroines of the early 1900s like Pollyanna in America, Anne of Green Gables in Canada, and Mary Lennox in England’s The Secret Garden. These are plucky, independent young girls who have had difficult lives and yet remain hopeful and are a positive influence on those around them. One thing I had forgotten about the book Heidi was how religious it was and how faith plays such a key role in the lives of Heidi and her embittered grandfather.
In A Whole Life by Robert Seehalter we are provided with a spare, simple, unemotional and honest look at the entire life of an ordinary Austrian man named Egger. He has a horrific childhood, a varied work career where he labours incredibly hard but is always a dedicated employee, a brief time of quiet married joy, a stint in the army that leaves him a prisoner of war, and then a retirement where he guides tourists on treks in the Austrian Alps. Outwardly there would seem to be little that is remarkable about Egger’s life but the fact that he is able to find inner calm amidst the difficulties of day-to-day living and accept his lot in life is remarkable.
From Those Who Save Us I gained an interesting perspective on the holocaust in Germany. From Heidi I enjoyed absolutely beautiful descriptions of the Swiss countryside and In A Whole Life I saw Austrian history and geography through the eyes of an ordinary man.