“Book Review: When I Am Ashes”
Reviewed by Frank Pizzoli
A compelling novel of art, philosophy, and the hunt of Nazi war criminals
Sasha Wolf makes her way through the Louvre in the year 1938. She’s particularly drawn to a painting called Atala’s Funeral by Anne-Louis Girodet. But the painting is not the only breathtaking thing she sees.
She also falls swiftly in love with Michael who works at the museum’s gift shop. Their love of chocolate brings them together at a Paris café, but alas, fate is not kind, cutting their love affair short.
Sasha receives an emergency telegram at her hostel requesting that she return to Brooklyn immediately. She must return because her father has been killed by a Nazi at Camp Siegfried in America. (For readers’ perspective, by 1938-39, pro-Nazi sentiments in the US were on full display.)
Not sure they believe the circulating stories about the camp, her parents venture to the location and Sasha aims to bring him to justice. Then, twenty-five years later, Sasha’s son Peter picks up his mother’s mantle, and becomes a Nazi hunter in Italy.
What Rose does so well is rooted in strong research and the ability to weave a suspenseful story through real historical events. Peter’s adventure leads us toward a Nazi War Crimes Tribunal patterned after the actual 1961 trial in Jerusalem of major Holocaust perpetrator Adolph Eichmann.
Rose displays an expert handling of the historical and psychological aspects of her characters. Like real life, Rose includes New Yorker magazine writer Hannah Arendt who covered the trial; Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter; Dr. Hans Munch who refused to assist in Auschwitz mass murders; the Mengele twins who were subjected to sadistic medical practices by the Angel of Death Dr. Josef Mengele; and Catholic monasteries thought to be part of the “ratlines,” which were a network of escape routes and havens for Nazis fleeing Europe after World War II.
There’s no other way to describe When I Am Ashes by Amber Rose than a feat of historical fiction. Besides having a surprise ending and suspenseful plot, Rose’s characters, same as the actual people involved in the Eichmann Trial, address complex moral gray zones faced by all involved. Parallels to today’s headlines on the rise of White Nationalism make Rose’s novel timely as well.
At the end of the day, we are left with the question, Who is responsible when an order to harm others is given? The person giving the order? Is the person carrying out the order responsible? Or is it both?
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Historical fiction
Print Length: 318 pages
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