Kitsap County has added a new novelist to its ranks - Kate Breslin's debut book, "For Such a Time," is a retelling of the Biblical Book of Esther.
Breslin sets this inspirational romance in the winter of 1944 in Theresienstadt - the notorious Nazi transit camp for prisoners ultimately destined for Auschwitz.
In "For Such a Time," the new camp commander has just arrived, bringing with him a blond half-Jewish woman whom he has saved from a firing squad at Dachau. Now Aric von Schmidt is pressing "Stella Muller" (her real name is Hadassah Benjamin) into service as his secretary - putting her up in his quarters just outside the prison camp walls, having his cook prepare meals that will help Stella regain her strength, concealing her shaved head with a wig and ordering up new clothes for her - Stella can only wonder what his motives might be.
But as she gets to know him, she realizes that he is cut from different cloth than the other SS policing the ghetto. For instance, von Schmidt is also sheltering Joseph, a little Jewish boy, in his home. He employs a mute woman as his housekeeper and his driver is a fellow officer who lost his hand earlier in the war.
As von Schmidt begins his command at Theresienstadt, the prisoners, too, note a degree of moderation in the way the camp is being run. One of those is Morty, an Elder in the camp whom his fellow prisoners look to for leadership. He is also Stella's long-lost uncle, and the only surviving member of her family.
Eventually Stella and Morty discover that one another is still alive, and Stella does what she can to appeal to her "employer" to make living conditions better for those inside the camp.
At the same time, she begins her own covert acts of resistance to save what prisoners she can.
But some of the officers under von Schmidt's command are suspicious of Stella's background, and chafe at their commander's relative lenience toward the prisoners. They conspire against him just as the camp is preparing for a visit by the International Red Cross to review prison conditions.
Breslin tells a compelling story, weaving together multiple story threads and a sizable cast of characters in an intense narrative that clips along nicely without neglecting cultural detail. The character development is thorough and the chemistry between the two leads sizzles even within the chaste parameters dictated by the inspirational format. Especially for readers of faith, the ties to the Old Testament/Tanakh story of Esther will provide additional resonance.
However, some will take exception to the license Breslin has exercised in altering timelines and facts to suit her story. While this book certainly isn't the first to exploit the tragedies of World War II for dramatic purposes, the sunshiny ending of this tale scarcely reflects the appalling events that engulfed the world in the mid-20th century. The farther away we get from the Holocaust, the more carefully we must guard against revisionism.
THIS WEEK'S BOOK
"For Such a Time," Kate Breslin
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.