The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
WARNING: I am putting this book on blast.
This book came up on my list of recommendations on Goodreads. The rating was high, reviews seemed good, the description was promising, so I took a leap of faith and bought it off of Amazon. In retrospect, I should have borrowed it from the library or looked for the ePub.
This is supposedly an "ambitious novel". The most ambitious thing about it is it's description.
The novel opens with Johann back in the day, a farmer who hand-makes clocks in order to earn money to immigrate with his heavily pregnant wife Rebecca. He sweats and toils over creating a perfect one-of-a-kind anniversary clock, a clock that only needs to be wound every 400 days. One morning he gets up early and walks to the nearest village, sells his clock to a visitor in the town and returns home to find his wife unexpectedly dead.
Obviously he's so upset. He buries her by himself and mourns. There is no explanation about how or why she died. End of chapter.
Then, to the present...
Charlotte "Charley" Gold is our protagonist, a lawyer working for the public defenders office and actually *here's a shocker* cares about her young clients. Didn't see that one coming.
She gets a very unexpected visit from her ex-boyfriend Brian Harrington who she clearly is not over, even though he treated her like crap. Brian asks her to help him out with a war crime trial in Germany. The beginning of the novel is promising...a war crime criminal, a historical side plot...how will it all come together?
That's the biggest problem with this novel. It literally DOES NOT COME TOGETHER.
Charlotte goes over to Germany, ends up working with Brian's brother Jack, who incidentally has always had feelings for her. TOO PREDICTABLE. She thinks he always disliked her strongly, turns out he always liked her and suppressed those emotions for the sake of his brother. When his brother treated Charlotte poorly, it caused a huge rift in their brotherly relationship and they hadn't talked in years.
(This opens a whole new line of questioning: Brian and Charlotte didn't date for THAT long, a couple years at most. Why would you refuse to speak to your BROTHER after a random girlfriend is dumped by them? How strongly was Jack in love with Charlotte? They barely talked when she was dating Brian so how were those strong emotions even possible? HIGHLY IMPLAUSIBLE.)
Brian doesn't bother showing up for a while so Charlotte and Jack are forced to talk to each other and come to an uneasy friendship. They travel around trying to find clues as to their client's innocence/guilt. Eventually they kiss and then have sex. She doesn't know what it means. Jack remains distant. Who even knows.
In the meantime, the novel travels back and forth between time eras, slowly showing us the life of Roger (war criminal) who has been accused of selling out his brother to the Nazis. Clever...two stories of two brothers who are both suffering. How ingenious.
So why DID Roger sell out his brother? This becomes the biggest question of the story. The reader will be sadly disappointed to discover that the reason is a woman. Roger becomes entangled with his brother's wife who is a Jew and tries to save her by exposing his brother. A life for a life, right? Except not. Both his brother Hans and his wife Magda end up dying. But what happens to Magda's daughter, also incidentally Roger's child? (Oops, she got pregnant by the wrong brother.)
EVENTUALLY, after a very tiresome amount of time, we discover the original clock has been passed hand to hand through different circumstances, although it is truly barely significant. At the ned of the novel we discover that Roger's daughter Anna is SHOCKINGLY still alive and has her own story to tell (in a very monotonous and boring description).
Charlotte, Jack and Brian (who shows up and of course complicates things) take the daughter (now an elderly woman) back to see Roger (her real father) for the first time, but oh no! He has died before they can make it there.
There you have it. No one triumphs. Roger's name is cleared, but he's dead, so who cares? Charlotte goes back to the States. Eventually Jack comes for her, but whatever. Too little, too late. The book closes with Johann marrying another woman and it is revealed that he had made a second clock, but what does that even matter? The first one didn't even make a difference to the story line!
Altogether confusing, slow, monotonous, cliched, boring, and disappointing. Don't read this. There's far better novels out there that have more quality and substance about this time era. These characters are boring and selfish. Charlotte is a horrible pathetic protagonist, still hung up on a brief relationship with a boorish man. Jack is unable to express himself, which is somehow manly and okay. The historical characters all die, basically, and lend nothing to the story.
Terrible. Please...don't do it. Save yourself.
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