Kensington|December 25, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-7582-7843-2
A deeply moving and masterfully written story of human resilience and enduring love, The Plum Tree follows a young German woman through the chaos of World War II and its aftermath.
“Bloom where you’re planted,” is the advice Christine Bolz receives from her beloved Oma. But seventeen-year-old domestic Christine knows there is a whole world waiting beyond her small German village. It’s a world she’s begun to glimpse through music, books and through Isaac Bauerman, the cultured son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for.
Yet the future she and Isaac dream of sharing faces greater challenges than their difference in stations. In the fall of 1938, Germany is changing rapidly under Hitler’s regime. Anti-Jewish posters are everywhere, dissenting talk is silenced, and a new law forbids Christine from returning to her job – and from having any relationship with Isaac. In the months and years that follow, Christine will confront the Gestapo’s wrath and the horrors of Dachau, desperate to be with the man she loves, to survive – and finally to speak out.
Set against the backdrop of the German home front, this is an unforgettable novel of courage and resolve, of the inhumanity of war, and the heartbreak and hope left in its wake.
The war began on a September day in 1938, the same day seventeen-year-old Christine Bolz received a surprise invitation to the Bauerman’s holiday party. On that day it was utterly impossible to imagine the horrors to come.
Christine worked as a domestic for Isaac Bauerman’s family and she always wore one of her two best Sunday dresses in case Isaac was there – she loved him. The Bauerman’s were one of the last wealthy families in town. Isaac’s father made sure that his children knew the virtues of labor. He gave Isaac and his younger sister, Gabriella, regular chores.
Christine had a younger sister, Marie age 15; and two little brothers, Heinrich age 6; and Karl age 4.
Christine’s mother told her that her relationship with Isaac could never work because she was the daughter of a poor mason, and Isaac was the son of a rich lawyer. His mother grew roses and raised money for charity, while her mother scrubbed his family’s floors and washed their clothes. He had attended school for 12 years and was now in university studying to be a doctor or a lawyer. Christine had good grades as long as she wasn’t hauled out to gather a late harvest or pluck potato bugs from the farmer’s fields and couldn’t afford university. Christine, looking back, found it ironic how hard she studied. Her foolish hope had been to become a teacher or a nurse. By age 11 she realized it cost too much to attend school and knew that all she’d ever be was a good mother and a hard-working wife.
The other problem Christine’s mother saw that would prevent her and Isaac from ever marrying was the fact he was a Jew and she a Christian.
Christine shared everything with her best friend, Kate, or Katya Hirsch and they were only 2 weeks apart in age. Their mothers had been friends before they were born, and as newborns, they’d slept together in prams, as toddlers, they’d played together on a blanket in the sunny yard while their mothers picked plums. And as adolescents they jumped rope for hours on end, dared each other to wade beneath Hangman’s Bridge, cut each other’s hair and scared themselves with spooky stories. Little did Christine know that this friendship would come to a grinding halt within a couple of years’ time.
Hitler was changing Germany and making new laws. Christine was heart-stricken when she read the posters put up all over town that read: “No Jew Can Be A Reich Citizen.” The center of the poster showed crude outlines of men, women, and children with questions: “Who is a German citizen? Who is a Jew?” These new laws meant that Christine and her mother could no longer work for the Bauerman’s. German women were forbidden to work for Jewish families. Christine’s mother told her in a very, clear and concise manner that she was no longer allowed to go to the Bauerman home or to see Isaac or she’d be arrested. However, Christine’s mother was allowed to attend the Bauerman home one last time to pick up their last pay cheque but she refused to allow Christine to accompany her. Christine was so heartbroken to know she couldn’t see Isaac again. What was she going to do? She asked her mother if she would please take a note and give it to Isaac when she went to collect their pay cheques and she agreed. Christine wrote a note asking Isaac to meet her somewhere late that evening after dark when they wouldn’t be seen.
Soon, Christine and Isaac were meeting on a regular basis and spending time together under the cover of darkness which would have seen them both arrested if caught. Soon enough, Isaac and his family are gone from the village due to all the propaganda. Later on in the story, Christine ends up hiding Isaac in their attic and is caught and sent to Dachau where she witnessed unspeakable horrors and this is where the story really gets interesting. You’ll be heartbroken, shocked, shake your head, and feel the pain of the prisoners as the conditions they live in are described and their skeletal bodies are revealed in written words. This was a very sad period in history and one that will never be forgotten and hopefully never repeated.
The Plum Tree was 367 pages of unbelievable writing that was so well-done. I read the book over two days just so I could make it last a little longer. Although sad and heartbreaking, the writing was so spot on that I didn’t want it to end. I’ll definitely be recommending The Plum Tree to everyone and keeping it as part of my permanent collection.