Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Let Me Go - Helga Schneider (audio)


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

24 comments:

Susan said...

Sandy, this one sounds like it would fit in with my obsession of WWII and the Holocaust. Thank you for the recommendation.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I think I can handle 4 discs too! You've persuaded me to add this to my 'must read' list. I hope my library has a copy.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think it would make me too mad to listen to this!

JoAnn said...

I'm adding this to my list right now - a 4 disc book would be nice break from the longer ones I've had lately!

Literary Feline said...

This sounds like quite a book! I wonder how it reads in print; hopefully just as good. Thanks for your great review, Sandy.

Julie P. said...

I have never listened to an entire audio book. This sounds like a fantastic one to start with!

Molly said...

Oh my --- this sounds fascinating, and at the same time I am just not sure that I can emotionally handle the subject matter.

I will definitely put on the list of books to be checked out in 2010.

Shweta said...

Sounds like a great read. I will surely look for this book during my next library visit

Heather J. said...

Wow, this sounds incredible. Although I love WWII books, I’m not sure I would be able to handle this one. Maybe I could though, because it sounds amazing (in a horrible way).

Nymeth said...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Sandy. It sounds like a book I really shouldn't miss.

Carrie K. said...

Sounds like a very moving read. I'm going to see if my library has this one.

Kathleen said...

This sounds like a thought provoking book that would make a great movie. I can't imagine having a mother with such a terrible past and to have to grow up and somehow make peace with it for your own sanity. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for the link to the other review as well...now I have discovered a new book and a new blogger to follow!

Christie said...

This sounds like a terrific book...and it will be a book for me as I haven't yet caught the audio wave.
I also read, with amusement, your review of Flowers in the Attic. Like you, I loved that book as a teenager...but haven't read it since. I may have to revisit it. I've added your blog to my MUST Read column at my blog...and I look forward to spending more time here.

Carrie K. said...

My library actually had this on audio available for download!

Iliana said...

Wow, this sounds so powerful. Thank you for bringing this book to our attention, Sandy!

The Bumbles said...

Nope - I can't handle that one. My blood is boiling just reading your review. It is too much to suffer the anguish with the author. I will put it in the back of my mind though - for some day I'm sure I will need to read some painful memories to gain perspective on shameful history.

Anna said...

Sounds like a must-read for me, but I bet you knew I'd say that.

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

This sounds like a great audio to listen to. I haven't heard of Barbara Rosenblat before, but I think I may have to take you up on your recommendation.

Jenners said...

Wow ... this sounds incredible intense. Not for when you're not in the happiest of places, I suspect. Great review.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds horrifyingly compelling. I've added it to my wish list.

Zibilee said...

This sounds like a really intense book. I have to admit, even though the story sounds a bit unsavory, I am beyond intrigued with this book. Great review, this is one I am definitely putting on my list. Thanks!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

Awesome review! You totally did this audio justice, as I knew you would. Just reading your review I could remember the emotions this book brought up.

I hadn't listened to anything read by Rosenblat before, but I will definitely be on the lookout for her name in the future.

Beth F said...

Barbara Rosenblatt is truly a master. I really should listen to this one.

Jeane said...

It sounds like a book that might be a difficult read. I think it would drive me a bit nuts at the end to always wonder about the mother's motives. Sometimes the open endings frustrate me!