“It’s easy to say you will do what’s right and shun what’s wrong, but when you get close enough to any given situation, you realize that there is no black or white. There are gradations of gray.” – Jodi Picoult
And isn’t that the truth? It’s no secret to any of my family members or friends who one of my favorite authors is: Jodi Picoult. I’ve been hooked ever since a friend of mine gave me My Sister’s Keeper and I salivated over it. I knew from then on Picoult was an author to look out for. And I did. I’ve read nearly every one of her books save for one or two, and this book was by far the hardest for me to get through. As someone who is Jewish, I’ve been reminded over and over how atrocious the Holocaust was, and it was awful. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there is a word in the English language that can possibly describe how terrible it was and not just for Jewish people. Perhaps that is why it was difficult for me to read. The book isn’t based on any one real person per se, but Picoult is not an author to take research lightly. I admire her work ethic tremendously. This book was no exception to her thorough research. She spoke with Holocaust survivors. Knowing that, you understand that while this book is a work of fiction, the horrors people faced in the concentration camps were not and therefore, most likely, a lot of what is in those chapters is not fiction but ultimately too real.
That being said, what would you do if someone close to you told you they were part of one of the most vicious crimes against humanity, and then asked you to kill them? This is exactly what happens to Sage Singer. Sage is a baker who works alone and late at night/into the early morning. With a scar on her face, she considers herself unattractive and therefore doesn’t really warrant any attention. Being alone suits her fine. Sage meets Josef in a grief support group. To her, he’s just a nice old man. Until one day Josef reveals the truth. He was part of the Nazi SS Guard, and for that, he wants Sage to help him kill himself.
From there we’re taken on a painful journey when it’s revealed that Sage’s own grandmother, Minka, is a Holocaust survivor. And to find out if Josef really is who he says he is, we have to read Minka’s harrowing story.
Yes, at the surface, this is a book about the Holocaust, but at its core what it really is is a book about forgiveness. Who deserves it, who doesn’t, who can grant it, and who can’t. And if any decision we make is ever really the “right” one.