Thursday, May 15, 2014

My review: For Such a Time

For Such a Time is Kate Breslin's debut novel.  It is a wonderfully written retelling of the story of Esther, with a twist - it is set in 1944 in German-controlled Czechoslovakia. 
"When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer . . . 'And who know but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?'"  - Esther 4:12-14

In 1944, 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, her Aryan-like looks allow her to hide behind the false identity of Stella Muller.  However, to maintain her cover as von Schmidt'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, Stella appeals to him on behalf of those in the camp.  Aric's indulgence gives her hope even as she risks discovery with every attempt to help the prisoners.  When her bravery brings her to the point of ultimate sacrifice, she faces an excruciating choice.  God may have brought her to the camp for such a time as this, but how can she save her people when she cannot save herself?

About the author:
A Florida girl who migrated to the Pacific Northwest, Kate Breslin was a bookseller for many years. Author of several travel articles, award-winning poet, and RWA Golden Heart finalist, Kate now writes inspiring stories about the healing power of God's love. For Such a Time is her first book. She lives with her husband and cat in Seattle, WA. Learn more at www.
(Author bio found on Amazon.  Cover photo copied from and book description was copied from back cover, emphasis mine.)

My review:
An excellent debut novel! 4 1/2 stars
This is Kate Breslin’s first novel and it is wonderful! I was very excited to read this book for two main reasons - I enjoy books set during WWII and I was curious about how the author would incorporate the story of Esther. I am very happy to say that I was not disappointed in either aspect!
Her attention to detail really brings the story to life, making it seem as though you are actually there, living it with them - which is kind of sad sometimes, since the novel is set in a transit camp for Jews. Ms. Breslin brings out a different aspect of the War that we generally try to ignore, or perhaps forget. I struggled with a few parts of the story that broke my heart for the people who actually lived through it. While this is a fictional account of a transit camp, there is much reality that weaves through it. The author definitely did her research to make this as realistic as possible. This isn’t a light read, or something to just randomly pick up and read a few chapters. It pulls you in and you feel compelled to keep reading to see what will happen next.
As I already mentioned, this book is an adaptation of the story of Esther, from the Bible. I know, you’re probably tired of these novels. It seems so overdone and most of us just want authors to move on and pick another story to focus on. But, I must applaud Ms. Breslin for her creativity. She did an excellent job of bringing this well-loved Bible story to life in a new way that captures your attention and quickly draws you in.
Hadassah Benjamin, or Stella Muller as we know her for most of the book, is a very real character. At the start of the book, I just wanted someone to hug and protect her. She has been abused, tormented, and fears what will happen to her now. I enjoyed watching her come to life and begin standing up for herself. Stella is a bold character from the start. She doesn’t always think before she speaks, making me wonder what she might say next. She has little faith left and is just trying to survive when she is pressed into service as a secretary for a German officer. She must figure out how to continue her façade, especially when continuing means she must betray her people.
Aric von Schmidt is the “hero” in this book. I started out really wanting to hate him, mostly because he is a Nazi. But as the story progresses, I found I didn’t have it in me to dislike him that much. I wanted to shake him and tell him to get it together a few times, but he really is a good man. He is struggling just as much as Stella, just in a different way. He fought in the war before being placed as Kommandant at the camp and has no desire to send anyone to their death, but what choice does he have? This is what he asks Stella when she confronts him about it.
The romance between them was rather sweet and didn’t seem overly contrived. It helped that Stella didn’t just “fall in love,” but thought about it, what it would mean. She is torn between her people and the man she loves. Aric is equally torn, because he doesn’t believe himself to be good enough and knows Stella plans to leave at the first opportunity. It also wasn’t made the main focus of the book, which I appreciated it. It was still there, flowing through the book, but other themes took precedence.
I’m not sure I can pick out one distinct spiritual theme in this book. This definitely isn’t a “preaching book” as some label Christian fiction. The Christian aspect is there, but it is mostly about the characters finding and having faith. Stella believes God has turned His back on her, on them all. She lived the suffering of the Jews and witnesses it again while at Theresientstadt. I enjoyed seeing her slowly make her way back to God and begin to comprehend the Christian faith.
For Aric, what he most craved was redemption, though he didn‘t figure that out for a while. He fears that God will never accept him after what he has done to His people. I also enjoyed his journey, as he starts to care more and more about Stella and then about the Jews. He isn’t the hard hearted man I thought him to be at the beginning.
The only reason I’ve held back ½ a star from my rating is that I found the story a little confusing at times, as the point of view shifted. A few times it changed during a paragraph and I would have to read a few sentences to figure out whose view point it was now, then back track to catch up on what was going on. Thankfully, I can only think of 2 or 3 times when this happened. I found it disrupted the flow of the story, but each time it quickly smoothed back out.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys novels set during WWII.
I received this book through The Book Club Network for my honest opinion, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not received any compensation for it. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review!  I love comments, so if there is something you'd like to share, please do!  :)

Before you go, here are a couple links, if you are interested in purchasing the book, or perhaps reading some other reviews to see what people are saying about it.


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