Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Other Me – Saskia Sarginson

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction
5*s

This wasn’t the book I expected but oh my, it was so much better! I expected a tale, similar to other ones I’ve read this year where the protagonist has changed her identity because she is either hiding from someone or something, and to an extent that is exactly what this story is about, but it tells a tale much deeper than that, truly exploring how we identify ourselves and illustrates how events in the past have very real consequences in the present.

Klaudia is the only daughter of Otto and Gwyn Meyer and we first meet her in the 1980s as she starts secondary school where her father is the caretaker. Having been home-schooled by her religious mother surrounded by the religious figures her father carves out of wood, Klaudia struggles to socialise, something not helped by the fact her father is a figure of fun and called a Nazi by her classmates. Saskia Sarginson paints a realistic picture of a teenage angst without it ever feeling melodramatic and so when Klaudia finds some evidence that seems to suggest that the name calling isn’t just childish taunts, but may have roots in reality, her reaction was entirely believable.

Klaudia leaves home in the 1990s, she moves to Leeds and becomes Eliza Bennett, named on the spur of the moment in honour of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett. She leaves behind the taunts that had followed her through her teenage years and reinvents herself, but she can’t quite forget the suspicions she has about her father’s past and is in no hurry to return to the claustrophobic home in London.

Interspersed with Klaudia’s and Eliza’s stories we have the story of Ernst, Otto’s brother. Ernst’s tale begins in the 1930s in Germany. Ernst and Otto were foundlings, taken in by the Meyer family living a bleak life, one where they aren’t treated as family but more as servants despite being young boys. We follow Ernst as life in Germany is changing with fascism on the rise and proving your ancestral line is a requirement of staying safe.

Earlier this month I made a comment that a book spoke to me, this one did too and I understood why when I got to the afterword. The author tells us she was informed that the father that she’d never met was a Dutch Jew and how that made the Holocaust all that more personal. My paternal family were also Jews who came to England from Amsterdam and like the author, I’ve always been aware that but for the decision of my ancestors to move to the East End, I may not be here at all. I’ve been to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam and read through the names of those who died in the concentration camps and seen my family name, which only became anglicised in the late 1930s, listed numerous times as were the other surnames that crop up in my family tree. The author wrote this book after considering how she would feel about this period of history if her father had been a German Nazi rather than a Dutch Jew. Coincidently the same thoughts were running through my head as I read this book, and that is the randomness of reading, you just don’t know when that special book that feels personal will appear.

This book really moved me and although I had some sympathy with Klaudia/Eliza, the character I really grew to love was Ernst. If you want to find out why, well you’ll have to read the book!

This is the first book I’ve read by this author but having rooted around in the cupboard which houses a pile of unread books, I found a copy of her debut novel The Twins which was one of the Richard and Judy choices back in 2013 and this will be now promoted to a place on an actual shelf.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to Little Brown Book Group who allowed me to read a copy of this book in return for my review. The Other Me is already available to read as an e-book with the physical copy being published on 13 August 2015.

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

29 thoughts on “The Other Me – Saskia Sarginson

  1. It’s funny (and rather satisfying), isn’t it, when we start reading a book expecting one thing and then it resonates with us much more than we expected? Lovely to hear that this one struck a chord with you.

    1. This was a real surprise find and probably because it struck a chord with me – it is startling to find you’ve been pondering the very same thoughts that the author went through to write the book!

  2. Agree with Fleur – the cover doesn’t give you a clue what you’re going to get! I recognized her name from The Twins (which I happen to know was in the charity shop yesterday…! I must stay out of there but my friend Rachel’s getting married and is trying her luck just in case she gets a dress on the cheap – I only glanced at the books, honestly Cleo!) which I didn’t read; I can’t remember why it didn’t appeal. But if this is good – and which I was luckily approved for too – I might have another look at it too…Glad you enjoyed it so much and it had some personal resonance for you. What different lives we could be living were it not for the vagaries of an unknown ancestor!

    1. I like your glancing at the books long enough to take in the title and author which just happened to coincide with my review 😉 Books that link to your own life (sometimes in a tenuous manner) and that are well-written are the best sort of reads. I put the personal element into this review because I’m aware that my love of this book was because I was ‘in-tune’ with the author’s thought process which made it special to me.

  3. This one certainly does seem a lot deeper than you’d think on the surface, Cleo! How interesting too that the author has the kind of personal connection that allowed her to really plunge into the story. And the premise is intriguing as well. It makes me wonder just what she’ll find, and to me, that’s always a sign that a book has got my interest.

  4. I have had this book sitting on my shelf (kindle shelf that is) for a while now and haven’t been particularly excited to start reading it but thanks to your lovely review I now am 🙂

  5. What a very interesting sounding book! I love the fact that it resonated more than every thought it would. Isn’t that just the best things when it happens? You never know how a book will speak to your life.

    1. It is one of the best things about reading I think – you’ve probably gathered I love a good story but when that special connection occurs it lifts the experience to a whole other level.

  6. Isn’t it great when a book turns out to be so much more than you expect? And I think books that stir up personal memories are the most effective. This one made me think of Sylvia Plath’s great poem ‘Daddy’ – I believe her father wasn’t in fact a Nazi but she uses his image to rage against the horror of it all. One of the very few poems I remember from chool.

      1. I am certain I got more from this book because of the similarity of thought process – in simplistic terms that part of my family were sinned against and not sinners and I’d wondered how I’d have felt had it been the other way around. As my father married out of the faith we didn’t have links outside the family to this half of me which was on one level fascinating but at the same time hidden. This wasn’t a poem which was in our school selection so I had to go and look it up – very good!

  7. Sounds like a great read Cleo, it must have been fascinating learning about your family’s history, I’m not surprised the book struck a chord with you. 🙂

    1. It’s funny as a child I knew that my father was Jewish and we visited the older generations and saw the traditions in place. I remember being shocked that my Grandfather had changed the surname in the late thirties but I was unaware of how recently the family had moved from Amsterdam to England until relatively recently. It is always great when you realise that the thoughts you’ve had are in tune with the author’s.

  8. Isn’t it great when a book speaks to you. I really think there is something so special when it happens…and you discover a new author who has a back catalogue you can catch up with.

  9. How interesting about your family history. It’s good that you went to Amsterdam and to Anne Frank’s House.
    Half of my family were Russian/Polish/Jewish immigrants who fled pogroms in the early 1900s. I grew up close to them and so I knew enough about the WWII horrors at a young age. Also, when I was 5, my friend’s parents had numbers on their arms and I asked my parents about that and got an answer that was age-appropriate, but I learned more early on.
    I don’t think I could read this book as I try to shy away from reading
    about this period except perhaps as in Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case, which exposes changes in German law that let war criminals go unprosecuted. I read for enjoyment and this doesn’t fit that bill, although I am often tempted by some books.
    It’s good to know the history of your family though. With half of my family Jewish and the other half Irish, that “more sinned against than sinner,” is wholly appropriate all around.

    1. I think what really chimed with me was based on your last sentence – because Jews were ‘sinned against’ and because I was aware at a young age of the broader picture that we take a view about those who fought on the other side – this book gives another viewpoint which was no less powerful but didn’t undermine the sheer horror of what happened. I am lucky that I was in contact with the older generation while growing up.

  10. I have an aversion to reading about “the other side” in WWII or the U.S. Civil War. I know enough from school, the media, movies, etc.
    I might venture to reading one of Rebecca Cantrell’s series about Germany during the 1930s from the viewpoint of a woman journalist if I’m brave enough, or a diary of someone who was in the Resistance inside Germany or was related to a member of it.
    I have a problem with any writer who is even slightly an apologist for the “other side.”

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