Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke

19150927Fiction — print. Tyndale House Publishers, 2014. 453 pgs. Library copy.

A eugenics researcher from America and his daughter, Rachel Kramer, are well-received in Germany during the summer of 1939, but Rachel’s attention is on subverting the advances of SS Office Gerhardt Schlick, whom she rejected a marriage proposal from five years ago and who is now married to her former best friend, Kristine.

But Gerhardt sees his daughter, deaf since birth, as a blight on his Aryan bloodline and is determined to not only rid himself of both Amelie and Kristine but to marry Rachel. Rachel promises Kristine she will help to save Amelie’s life and turns to the American journalist Jason Young to help connect her with the resistance and the only people who can help save Amelie and, later, her life.

Although most people associate the Nazi eugenics program with the mass murder of Jews, the program also targeted people with mental and physical disabilities. Their stories are rarely told in both fictional and nonfictional accounts, and a monument to their suffering only recently opened in Berlin. In that regard, I applaud Gohlke for focusing her attention of the other victims of the Nazi eugenics program and for not shying away from making the connection between the study of eugenics in Germany and in the United States, where the forced sterilization of women and men with physical and mental disabilities was also championed.

Unfortunately, Amelie quickly fades into the background merely existing in many scenes as someone to be cuddled or patted with a more unbelievable story taking the spotlight from what could have been a very interesting story about the plight of trying to hide a deaf child in Nazi Germany. Instead, the story focuses on how Rachel was separated from her twin sister, Lea, at birth with Lea undergoing forced sterilization and being raised by her biological grandmother while Rachel is given to an American couple to be raised with the express purpose of being married to Gerhardt Schlick.

This bizarre experiment, although it is never explained exactly what was the purpose of this separation, was supposedly done under the guidance of Josef Mengele, who performed horrific experiments on twins in the concentration camps, long before the rise of the Nazis Party or their seizure of power. Given the ages of Rachel and Lea, however, Mengele would have had to concoct this plan around 1914-1919 when he was between the age of three and eight.

The story also does not mathematically add up when you consider that Lea was forcibly sterilized by a Nazi research unit as before her marriage to Friederich, which supposedly occurred before the Nazi rise to power. There are so many aspects of this book where the history has been thoroughly researched and yet the main focus of the book wasn’t. It is just too bizarre.

I figured based on who the publisher is that the book would have a Christian element to it, but such as element was not introduced until the final moments of the book that it felt incredibly out of place. I also object to authors who convert their Jewish characters to Christianity during the Holocaust as I find it incredibly distasteful and such a conversion in this book ended up contradicting what Gohlke then wrote in the epilogue.  By the time I reached the epilogue, though, I had already anticipated being letdown by a novel that held such great promise, and I came to the conclusion that it might be time for me to stop reading fictional accounts of the Holocaust.

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