The Kommandant's Girl

( 79 )


Nineteen-year-old Emma Bau has been married only three weeks when Nazi tanks thunder into her native Poland. Within days Emma's husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground, leaving her imprisoned within the city's decrepit, moldering Jewish ghetto. But then, in the dead of night, the resistance smuggles her out. Taken to Krakow to live with Jacob's Catholic cousin, Krysia, Emma takes on a new identity as Anna Lipowski, a gentile.
Emma's already precarious situation is ...
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Nineteen-year-old Emma Bau has been married only three weeks when Nazi tanks thunder into her native Poland. Within days Emma's husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground, leaving her imprisoned within the city's decrepit, moldering Jewish ghetto. But then, in the dead of night, the resistance smuggles her out. Taken to Krakow to live with Jacob's Catholic cousin, Krysia, Emma takes on a new identity as Anna Lipowski, a gentile.
Emma's already precarious situation is complicated by her introduction to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official who hires her to work as his assistant. Urged by the resistance to use her position to access details of the Nazi occupation, Emma must compromise her safety—and her marriage vows—in order to help Jacob's cause. As the atrocities of war intensify, so does Emma's relationship with the Kommandant, building to a climax that will risk not only her double life, but also the lives of those she loves.
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Editorial Reviews
An achingly beautiful account of a young woman forced to bend loyalties, deny truths and betray her own beliefs . . .
Publishers Weekly
With luminous simplicity, Jenoff's breathtaking debut chronicles the life of a young Jewish bride during the Nazi occupation of Krakow, Poland, in WWII. Emma Bau, a shy librarian, escapes the city's Jewish ghetto with the aid of the underground resistance movement that Jacob, her activist husband, has already joined. Emma assumes a new gentile identity as Anna Lipowski and goes to live with Jacob's elderly aunt, a wealthy Catholic widow who has also taken in Lukasz Izakowicz, the only surviving child of a famous rabbi and his murdered wife. As Anna, Emma catches the eye of Kommandant Georg Richwalder, second in charge of the General Government, at a dinner party. The handsome Nazi is so impressed by her German language skills (and her beauty) that he asks her to become his personal assistant. Emma accepts, hoping to secure valuable information for the resistance, but the chemistry between them presents challenges that test her loyalties to Jacob and her heart. This is historical romance at its finest. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778323426
  • Publisher: Mira
  • Publication date: 3/1/2007
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 165,430
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Pam Jenoff
Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant's Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.
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Read an Excerpt

As we cut across the wide span of the market square, past the pigeons gathered around fetid puddles, I eye the sky warily and tighten my grip on Lukasz's hand, willing him to walk faster. But the child licks his ice-cream cone, oblivious to the darkening sky, a drop hanging from his blond curls. Thank God for his blond curls. A sharp March wind gusts across the square, and I fight the urge to let go of his hand and draw my threadbare coat closer around me.

We pass through the high center arch of the Sukennice, the massive yellow mercantile hall that bisects the square. It is still several blocks to Nowy Kleparz, the outdoor market on the far northern edge of Kraków's city center, and already I can feel Lukasz's gait slowing, his tiny, thin-soled shoes scuffing harder against the cobblestones with every step. I consider car-rying him, but he is three years old and growing heavier by the day. Well fed, I might have managed it, but now I know that I would make it a few meters at most. If only he would go faster. "Szybko, kochana," I plead with him under my breath. "Chocz!" His steps seem to lighten as we wind our way through the flower vendors peddling their wares in the shadow of the Mariacki Cathedral spires.

Moments later, we reach the far side of the square and I feel a familiar rumble under my feet. I pause. I have not been on a trolley in almost a year. I imagine lifting Lukasz onto the streetcar and sinking into a seat, watching the buildings and people walking below as we pass. We could be at the market in minutes. Then I stop, shake my head inwardly. The ink on our new papers is barely dry, and the wonder on Lukasz's face at his first trolley ride would surely arouse suspicion. I cannot trade our safety for convenience. We press onward.

Though I try to remind myself to keep my head low and avoid eye contact with the shoppers who line the streets this midweek morning, I cannot help but drink it all in. It has been more than a year since I was last in the city center. I inhale deeply. The air, damp from the last bits of melting snow, is perfumed with the smell of roasting chestnuts from the cor-ner kiosk. Then the trumpeter in the cathedral tower begins to play the hejnal, the brief melody he sends across the square every hour on the hour to commemorate the Tartar invasion of Kraków centuries earlier. I resist the urge to turn back to-ward the sound, which greets me like an old friend.

As we approach the end of Florianska Street, Lukasz sud-denly freezes, tightening his grip on my hand. I look down. He has dropped the last bit of his precious ice-cream cone on the pavement but does not seem to notice. His face, already pale from months of hiding indoors, has turned gray. "What is it?" I whisper, crouching beside him, but he does not re-spond. I follow his gaze to where it is riveted. Ten meters ahead, by the arched entrance to the medieval Florian Gate, stand two Nazis carrying machine guns. Lukasz shudders. "There, there, kochana. It's okay." I put my arms around his shoulders, but there is nothing I can do to soothe him. His eyes dart back and forth, and his mouth moves without sound. "Come." I lift him up and he buries his head in my neck. I look around for a side street to take, but there is none and turn-ing around might attract attention. With a furtive glance to make sure no one is watching, I push the remnants of the ice-cream cone toward the gutter with my foot and proceed past the Nazis, who do not seem to notice us. A few minutes later, when I feel the child breathing calmly again, I set him down.

Soon we approach the Nowy Kleparz market. It is hard to contain my excitement at being out again, walking and shop-ping like a normal person. As we navigate the narrow walk-ways between the stalls, I hear people complaining. The cabbage is pale and wilted, the bread hard and dry; the meat, what there is of it, is from an unidentifiable source and already giving off a curious odor. To the townspeople and villagers, still accustomed to the prewar bounty of the Polish country-side, the food is an abomination. To me, it is paradise. My stomach tightens.

"Two loaves," I say to the baker, keeping my head low as I pass him my ration cards. A curious look crosses his face. It is your imagination, I tell myself. Stay calm. To a stranger, I know, I look like any other Pole. My coloring is fair, my ac-cent flawless, my dress purposefully nondescript. Krysia chose this market in a working-class neighborhood on the northern edge of town deliberately, knowing that none of my former acquain-tances from the city would shop here. It is critical that no one recognize me.

I pass from stall to stall, reciting the groceries we need in my head: flour, some eggs, a chicken, if there is one to be had. I have never made lists, a fact that serves me well now that paper is so dear. The shopkeepers are kind, but businesslike. Six months into the war, food is in short supply; there is no generous cut of cheese for a smile, no sweet biscuit for the child with the large blue eyes. Soon I have used all of our ration cards, yet the bas-ket remains half empty. We begin the long walk home.

Still feeling the chill from the wind on the market square, I lead Lukasz through side streets on our way back across town. A few minutes later, we turn onto Grodzka Street, a wide thoroughfare lined with elegant shops and houses. I hesitate. I had not meant to come here. My chest tightens, making it hard to breathe. Easy, I tell myself, you can do this. It is just another street. I walk a few meters farther, then stop. I am standing before a pale yellow house with a white door and wooden flower boxes in the windows. My eyes travel upward to the second floor. A lump forms in my throat, making it dif-ficult to swallow. Don't, I think, but it is too late. This was Ja-cob's house. Our house.

I met Jacob eighteen months ago while I was working as a clerk in the university library. It was a Friday afternoon, I re-member, because I was rushing to update the book catalog and get home in time for Shabbes. "Excuse me," a deep voice said. I looked up from my work, annoyed at the interruption. The speaker was of medium height and wore a small yarmulke and closely trimmed beard and mustache. His hair was brown with flecks of red. "Can you recommend a good book?"

"A good book?" I was caught off guard as much by the swim-ming darkness of his eyes as by the generic nature of his request.

"Yes, I would like something light to read over the week-end to take my mind off my studies. Perhaps the Iliad, ?"

I could not help laughing. "You consider Homer light read-ing?"

"Relative to physics texts, yes." The corners of his eyes crin-kled. I led him to the literature section, where he settled upon a volume of Shakespeare's comedies. Our knuckles brushed as I handed him the book, sending a chill down my spine. I checked out the book to him, but still he lingered. I learned that his name was Jacob and that he was twenty, two years my senior.

After that, he came to visit me daily. I quickly learned that even though he was a science major, his real passion was poli-tics and that he was involved with many activist groups. He wrote pieces, published in student and local newspapers, that were critical not only of the Polish government, but of what he called "Germany's unfettered dominance" over its neighbors. I worried that it was dangerous to be so outspoken. While the Jews of my neighborhood argued heatedly on their front stoops, outside the synagogues and in the stores about current affairs and everything else, I was raised to believe that it was safer to keep one's voice low when dealing with the outside world. But Jacob, the son of prominent sociologist Maximillian Bau, had no such concerns, and as I listened to him speak, watched his eyes burn and his hands fly, I forgot to be afraid.

I was amazed that a student from a wealthy, secular family would be interested in me, the daughter of a poor Orthodox baker, but if he noticed the difference in our backgrounds, it did not seem to matter. We began spending our Sunday af-ternoons together, talking and strolling along the Wisla River. "I should be getting home," I remarked one Sunday afternoon in April as the sky grew dusky. Jacob and I had been walking along the river path where it wound around the base of Wawel Castle, talking so intensely I had lost track of time. "My par-ents will be wondering where I am."

"Yes, I should meet them soon," he replied matter-of-factly. I stopped in my tracks. "That's what one does, isn't it, when one wants to ask permission to court?" I was too sur-prised to answer. Though Jacob and I had spent much time together these recent months and I knew he enjoyed my com-pany, I somehow never thought that he would seek permis-sion to see me formally. He reached down and took my chin in his gloved fingers. Softly, he pressed his lips down on mine for the first time. Our mouths lingered together, lips slightly parted. The ground seemed to slide sideways, and I felt so dizzy I was afraid that I might faint.

Thinking now of Jacob's kiss, I feel my legs grow warm. Stop it, I tell myself, but it is no use. It has been nearly six months since I have seen my husband, been touched by him.

A sharp clicking noise jars me from my thoughts. My vi-sion clears and I find myself still standing in front of the yel-low house, staring upward. The front door opens and an older, well-dressed woman steps out. Noticing me and Lukasz, she hesitates. I can tell she is wondering who we are, why we have stopped in front of her house. Then she turns from us dismis-sively, locks the door and proceeds down the steps. This is her home now. Enough, I tell myself sharply. I cannot afford to do anything that will draw attention. I shake my head, trying to clear the image of Jacob from my mind.

"Come, Lukasz," I say aloud, tugging gently on the child's hand. We continue walking and soon cross the Planty, the broad swath of parkland that rings the city center. The trees are revealing the most premature of buds, which will surely be cut down by a late frost. Lukasz tightens his grip on my hand, staring wide-eyed at the few squirrels that play among the bushes as though it is already spring. As we push onward, I feel the city skyline receding behind us. Five minutes later we reach the Aleje, the wide boulevard that, if taken to the left, leads south across the river. I stop and look toward the bridge. Just on the other side, a half kilometer south, lies the ghetto. I start to turn in that direction, thinking of my parents. Per-haps if I go to the wall, I can see them, find a way to slip them some of the food I have just purchased. Krysia would not mind. Then I stop—I cannot risk it, not in broad daylight, not with the child. I feel shame at my stomach, which no longer twists with hunger, and at my freedom, at crossing the street as though the occupation and the war do not exist.

Half an hour later, Lukasz and I reach Chelmska, the rural neighborhood we have come to call home. My feet are sore from walking along the uneven dirt road and my arms ache from carrying the groceries, as well as the child, for the last several meters. As we round the corner where the main road divides in two, I inhale deeply; the air has grown colder now, its pureness broken only by an acrid hint of smoke from a farmer burning piles of dead winter brush. I can see the fires smoldering across the sloping farmland to my right, their thick smoke fanning out over the fields that roll like a gentle green lake into the horizon.

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Interviews & Essays

The Inside Scoop
on Pam Jenoff
by Andrea Kerr

Tell us about your book The Kommandant's Girl. What can readers expect?
The Kommandant's Girl is the story of Emma Bau, a young Jewish woman in Krakow, Poland. Emma has been married to Jacob for only three weeks when the Nazis invade and he is forced to disappear underground with the resistance. Emma struggles to survive, first with her parents in the ghetto and later with Jacob's aunt, using an assumed, non-Jewish identity.

Emma's precarious situation is complicated when she meets high-ranking Nazi Kommandant Georg Richwalder, who insists that she come work for him. Emma agrees, hoping to secure valuable information for the resistance. To do so, however, she must become dangerously close to the Kommandant, whose romantic intentions are clear. Emma wrestles with difficult questions of loyalty and duty, as well as her own complex feelings for the Kommandant, until a fateful resistance bombing of a Nazi café threatens to change her life and the lives of those she loves forever.

This book is based in part on real events--was Emma inspired by an actual person, and if so, how did you first learn about her story?

The Kommandant's Girl and its characters, including Emma, are entirely fictitious. However, the inspiration for the book came from historical events.
In early 2002 I rode a train from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia with an elderly couple who were both Holocaust survivors, and learned for the first time the extraordinary story of the Krakow resistance, one that I had never known during my years living there. Curious, I researched the Krakowresistance further and learned of their struggles, including the fateful bombing of a Nazi café by a resistance group, and the eventual arrest and/or murder of numerous resistance fighters.

I was amazed--how could I have lived and walked the same streets as these brave partisans for so long not knowing their story? How had the story of these courageous young people gone largely untold for so long? With that historical foundation, The Kommandant's Girl was born.

You have a very demanding day job as an attorney; how do you find the time to write?

It's busy, but I like the contrast: the solitude of writing; the social interaction of my job. I try to wake up at 5:00 a.m.--or as close to that as I can manage!-- to write until about 7:00 a.m. or so. Then I have to stop and get ready to go to the office. On weekends it's a more relaxed pace--up by 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. since my creative mind seems to be done by noon! And I need to be well rested to write, usually at least seven hours of sleep, so I am in bed early, with not a lot of nightlife.

I also use vacation to write when possible. I recently had the opportunity to undertake a writing residence at the Leighton Studios, which is at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The chance to get away and have a dedicated period of time to write in such a beautiful setting was invaluable.

You previously served as a foreign service officer with the State Department in Poland and as the special assistant to the secretary of the army at the Pentagon. How have these experiences influenced your writing?

I believe it was Sir Isaac Newton who said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I think that quote really sums up the influence that my government career has had on my writing. Through my previous work, I had the opportunity to travel the world, and the places I've seen and people I've met have had a subtle but profound effect on my writing. The biggest factor it gives me a very vivid sense of place, such as the streets of Krakow. Also, my years in Poland gave me a real sense of the people. I go back to visit as often as possible. There are members of the elderly Jewish community there who are like grandparents to me, and I am mindful that they will not be there forever. And there are so many other Polish people, Jewish and non, who opened up their homes and hearts to me when I lived there. They are like family, and I cannot imagine losing that connection.

Have you always wanted to write fiction?

Yes! I started writing at the age of five or six, sending in articles to children's magazines, binding my stories into little books and showing them to anyone who would read them. I started my first novel by sixth grade.

My first serious attempt at a novel came when I was living in Poland. I lived alone in the countryside and had a tremendous amount of solitude, which helped me be creative and productive. But those were pre-Internet days, and the lack of English-speaking support and communication stopped me from taking it as far as I liked. I still hope to rewrite and publish that project in the future.

For several years after I returned to the United States, I couldn't write much of anything. Then 9/11 happened and it really made me reevaluate what was important to me. I decided that if I was going to be a writer, I had to start then and there. Soon after, I took an evening class on novel writing and began working on The Kommandant's Girl.

What are you working on now? Will you be revisiting the WWII era in future books?

My second book (tentatively titled Heart of Europe) is related to The Kommandant's Girl. It takes the story of Emma's best friend, Marta Nedermann, forward into the postwar period. At the end of The Kommandant's Girl, Marta's survival is very much uncertain, but she awakens in a displaced persons camp in Salzburg, haunted by the vision of Paul, the mysterious American soldier who liberated her. When Paul's unit passes through Austria, he and Marta are reunited for a single night before he disappears again, this time into seeming tragedy.

Grief-stricken, Marta emigrates to London, determined to start a new life. Working as a translator in the foreign office, she meets and marries young diplomat Simon, and gives birth to a daughter, Rachel. But Marta's peace and comfort are short-lived; as the Cold War explodes across Europe, she finds herself pressed into service as a spy once more, caught up in the death struggle between east and west for the heart of the continent. Reluctantly she leaves her family behind to undertake a dangerous mission, one that will force her to confront her past, taking her to places she thought she would never return, and reuniting her with a love she thought was lost forever.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Don't quit your day job! Just kidding. Seriously, I have the utmost respect for those writers who are willing to struggle until they make it in order to write full-time. For me, becoming an author--I call it my "rock star dream"--has always had to coexist with my demanding career as an attorney. But it is a long haul from starting a book to publication--almost five years for me, and that may be on the shorter side of average. So you need to have a life and support system to get you through the highs and lows of getting to publication.

Beyond that, I believe there are three factors that make a difference: first, you have to be tenacious. You just have to keep on knocking at the door until it opens.

Second, you have to be disciplined. Writing takes a lot of time, and I'm not just talking about the first draft. There are the revisions, and then there's the business marketing side of it. You have to make choices to consistently carve out the time for your writing if it is going to be important to you.

Finally, the single biggest skill that has helped me as a writer is having the ability to revise. The Kommandant's Girl went through a dozen rewrites from first draft to publication. Many times I had to take broad, conceptual suggestions from my agent or editor and incorporate them into the work. Often I wasn't sure if I liked or agreed with the changes. Sometimes I would take the leap of faith and see if the changes worked (they almost always did). Other times, I would go back to whomever was making the suggestion and say, "Whoa, let's slow down here and revisit" to negotiate changes that made the story better without destroying my gut-level instinct about the spirit of the book.

But ultimately, the collective input resulted in a richer, more complete creation, and I truly believe my ability to take those changes and integrate them made all the difference.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 79 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 79 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2008

    not that great...

    firs of all sorry for my english - its not my native language. thats true - i couldnt put down that book... but it just made me angry to be honest. author made so much historical mastakes! for example - Poland was fighting with Germans for a month, not for two weeks (like France). Emma/Anna is buyng oranges or drinking orange juce all the time - dureing war in Poland it was almost impissible to buy bread - what about oranges!!! author is writening also about fridges - first fridge in Poland was made in 1956!so long after the war... next thing - the Resistance movement - the book says that there was only Jews fighting for freedom, what about the Poles? in the book ther is only one polish freedom fighter and many Jews. in reality it was just opposite. i understeand that its kind of historical fiction but its just sooo unreal that it hurts, especialy that Pam Jenoff was vice consul in Cracow - she should study some more history beafore writening that book. shame...

    15 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 12, 2009

    This book was recommended by one of the staff. Glad I took it.

    This book was a great read. I was able to read it and not worry about setting it down and not be able to pick up where i left off. I really enjoyed this.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2013

    Another good story

    If you like this story, you've got to read My enemy's Cradle by Sara Young.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2012

    Ordered New--Came Used.

    I was excited to get this book. I ordered it new, but when it was delivered, I was disappointed to see that it was a very used copy. I returned it to my local store. The sales person thought I had ordered it used and started to challenge my return, but fortunately I saved my receipt and showed him it was ordered NEW. I have since re-ordered another new copy and will wait for that delivery. I have never had this problem before from B& I have ordered MANY books from them, and am well aware when I am buying a used book. Normally I wouldn't have a problem w/a used book, but I want what I paid for. My low rating on this purchase is solely based on how B&N handled my order and my return. It has nothing to do w/the book itself.

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Great Read

    I really enjoyed this book. I love reading historical fiction and this book talked about something that I never have read about and that was the Resistance. I think the book moved with great speed even thought the ending did not do the ending justice I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what happened so I guess I hope she writes another book to put my mind at ease with the main character.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2009

    Good read

    It was a great story, but I didn't care for the ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2015


    A great story told from a child's point of view of the deportation of Jews from France. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent!!!  Highly recommended.

    Excellent!!!  Highly recommended.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    Good but could've been excellent

    This story had so much promise but came up a bit short in the end, in my opinion. I wonder what factors led to the author cutting it short. That said, the writer definitely has a knack for telling a story which, combined with such an interesting theme, made this book enjoyable.

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  • Posted October 26, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    An easy read that I finished very quickly, partly because of it'

    An easy read that I finished very quickly, partly because of it's lightness and partly due to my interest in how the story would resolve. I loved how the characters were believable, no one was perfect and the ending wasn't exactly a "happy ever after" for all involved (not to give away spoilers). However, I felt as if the author took advantage of such a dark time and place in history. I felt the author's attempt at acknowledging the horrors of the holocaust, but those details were brushed over too quickly. I couldn't help but to feel that the author used the holocaust in order to tell a good romance, and that really bothered me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    Fabulous story.

    Though it is fictional it is quite believable given the circumstances.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2012

    Love this book!

    I really love this book! I couldn't put it down. This book is very intense and made tears come to my eyes at the end. This book has my seal of approval!

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  • Posted November 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    While a sad story, it was quite enjoyable. A nice novel based o

    While a sad story, it was quite enjoyable. A nice novel based on dreadful history. The book should have been edited more closely - perhaps by a Polish speaker. The mistakes in the few Polish words and names that were used would have been easily caught by someone who knows the language.

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  • Posted September 30, 2012

    Could have been so much more

    I liked this book, but felt that it was too short. There were so many places where the author could have expanded on the plot and provided more character development. The interaction between the kommandant and his assistant could have progressed at a slower pace, adding more tension and excitement to the relationship. Having their relationship continue, would have provided much more for the plot. But instead the novel stopped rather abruptly leaving me wanting so much more. I read the follow up to the book - The Diplomat's Wife and it rarely touches on the main characters from this book. I still give the book 4 stars, because it kept my attention and it was interesting.

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  • Posted July 9, 2012


    I really enjoyed this book. I found it at my library. I purchased The Diplomat's Wife a couple days ago (on my Nook) and I just finished it. Couldn't put it down. I'm happy I accidentally read them in that order because that's the order they are supposed to be read in. I wish it was more obvious in what order to read the other books. I guess I'll have to google it.

    All around great book. I also like that the love scenes aren't porno crap. Tastefully done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    The kommandanytd gitl Thhe kkommamndants girl

    Very jnteesteriing

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2011

    Amazing book!

    This book is a must read! Make sure you follow up with The Diplomats Wife when your done.

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  • Posted September 15, 2011

    Could not put it down!

    This book was incredibly engaging, and a great story about life's twists and turns. I recommend it highly.

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  • Posted June 11, 2011


    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted March 9, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    You got to read this book. It is very interesting and I could not put it down.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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