Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Not long ago, I read a compelling review for "Let Me Go" by Helga Schneider from Melissa @ Shhh...I'm Reading. All I really needed to know was that it was a 4-disc audio, it was about WWII, and was narrated by Barbara Rosenblat (some effusive fangirl adoration on her in a minute). I ordered it from the library on the spot. Cool, I thought. After audios ranging from 15 to 48 discs, I can handle 4!!! Not so fast. Friends, there is more heartbreaking emotion packed in those 4 discs than in 40. Small but mighty is this one.
This is a true story, written from the viewpoint of Helga, who has not seen her mother in 30 years, and even then, only for an afternoon. At this uncomfortable meeting, Helga learned that her mother had abandoned her, her brother and her father to become a member of the SS and a powerful guard at Auschwitz. Sickened and horrified, Helga walked away from her mother, determined to cut off all ties forever. However, 30 years later, Helga has been notified that her mother, at the age of 90, is residing in a Viennese nursing home and is asking for her. With trepidation in her heart, but a determination to receive answers and closure, she leaves her home in Italy with a cousin to visit her.
A majority of the story is a recounting of this visit. Helga finds her mother partly lucid, the next minute delusional, irrational and belligerent. She initially states that her children are dead, and denies Helga's existence. She shows no maternal instinct whatsoever. She seems to be obsessed with how she looks, and is offended that she could have a child that is such an "old bag". Her moods swing from pathetic tears to rage to ice cold belief in the Nazi's "final solution".
Helga, in her determination to ask every ugly unanswered question her mind has ever conjured, to avenge a lifetime of betrayal, starvation and abuse from a step-mother, and soothe her disgust for her mother's role in the Holocaust, begins to aggressively and persistently pick away at her mother's hardened shell. What role did she play in the medical experiments? Did she ever feel guilt for putting thousands of children to death? Did she form any relationships with her prisoners? Did she ever think of her own children or miss them? Did she really hate the Jews deep down in her heart, or was she just following orders?
And her mother eventually answers the questions with unflinching honesty. But not before she emotionally blackmails Helga. Yes, Helga, I will tell you everything you want to know, but first you must promise to come back tomorrow and bring me yellow roses. Yes, Helga, I will tell you that, but you must call me "Mutti" (mother). It is blood-chilling to witness. Diabolical almost.
Throughout the story, Helga also flashes back occasionally, filling in the blanks with historical fact as she knows it. Some of it from general knowledge, some from Helga's mother's file.
I listened to the entire audio with a knot in my stomach and a tight throat. In my mind, at the end of "Let Me Go", we are left with one final mystery. Did her mother answer all of Helga's questions with the specific intention of solidifying her daughter's hate and thus freeing her to walk away with a clear conscience? Or is Helga's mother truly without remorse? I will leave that for you to decide.
A note about the narrator: Barbara Rosenblat is one of the masters, ranking up there with Jim Dale, Simon Vance, Jonathan Davis. If you've ever heard her, you will never forget her. For me, her specialty is with languages and accents, which are flawless. She has won 6 Audie awards, and over 40 Golden Earphone Awards. If you happen to see her name on an audiobook, you must experience her first-hand. You won't be sorry.
5 out of 5 stars