By: Heidi Laird
Publisher: Fulton Books
Publication Date: September 2022
Review Date: May 31, 2023
Heidi Laird delivers poignant prose and eye-opening information in her latest book, Letters From Jenny, A Historical Novel.
This compelling story opens with a riveting preface that provides the author’s connection with ‘Jenny,’ the main protagonist in Letters from Jenny. Heidi Laird is the great-granddaughter of ‘Jenny’ and from the onset, Ms. Laird clarifies that while she never knew Jenny, she knew of her and her "...formidable matriarch and her compelling personality..." (page 5) Jenny was born into a Jewish family in 1863 and grew up in Imperial Germany. She survived the First World War, the revolution of 1918, the Weimar Republic, and most notably, witnessed Hitler’s rise to power. Jenny lived in Mainz, Germany and she and her husband Albert raised six children. Sadly, Jenny was widowed in 1912 when her husband passed away at the age of forty-nine. For the next two and a half decades, she lived through famine, a pandemic, financial constraints, and the reality of a government that was ineffective at best. The beauty of this story focuses on the treasure trove of letters from Jenny to her twin sister, Martha, that covers a period of time beginning in February, 1918 to March 1933, the contents of which is rife with fascinating observations and viewpoints the two sisters had while living through the infamy of this period of time in Germany’s history.
Chapter One titled "The Nuremburg Trials" lays the foundation for the discovery of Jenny’s Letters. Captain Milton Cramer is assigned to the JAG Corps team in Wiesbaden, Germany in April 1945. For the next year, he would pour over countless documents and have first-hand witness to the images of unfathomable atrocities that would provide the evidence presented during the actual Nuremberg Trials. His office space had already been established and a translator was assigned to Captain Cramer. His workspace would be that of a "...beautiful, dark-stained desk with a satin finish high-lighting a carved frieze along the edges of the writing surface, the intricate joints and fittings of the three deep drawers on each side evidence of the fine craftsmanship of the furniture maker..." (page 12) On the back of the desk was the stamp ‘Property of the U.S. Military.’ What Captain Cramer didn’t know was "...this was one of many pieces that had been requisitioned from the houses and apartments of the German civilian population of Wiesbaden as they were being evicted by the U.S. Military, and their homes converted to housing for the soldiers of the American occupation forces..." (page 12)
On the last day of his assignment in Wiesbaden, Captain Cramer was advised of space available on an Air Force cargo plane that would transport him back to Langley Field in Virginia. In his desk, Cramer had discovered a neatly wrapped package tied together with string, a package that contained letters - should he take them with him? The cab was waiting to take him to the airport, and Captain Cramer had a moment of hesitation as to whether he should take the letters. He decided to take them and tucked them into one of his shirts inside his duffel bag. Once reunited with his wife Ruth and his three children, Rebecca, Benjamin and Ella, Cramer didn't give the letters much thought. However, as Ruth was unpacking Captain Cramer’s duffel bag, she discovered the packet of letters. When Ruth first discovered the letters, she thought they belonged to a soldier who had written to his loved one during the war. Upon closer inspection, she realized they were not only written in German, but in antiquated script on paper that had yellowed and aged over time. She knew Milton didn’t speak German and upon taking a closer look, she noticed the dates of the letters began in 1918 and continued until 1922 and resumed in 1932 for another year. It is with Ruth’s discovery that the anchor was set and the story of Jenny’s Letters was about to unfold.
Words cannot express enough the level of praise I have for Ms. Laird for penning such an impactful read. The letters from Jenny cover a well-documented period of time in history that is exceptional and phenomenally captivating to read. Ms. Laird deserves tremendous accolades for taking on the challenge of sharing these letters given the heart-wrenching reality of life in Germany during such a tragic period of time. Her tone portrays amazing poise (versus a nuance of contempt). There is a sublime gentleness to the way the story plays out; equally complemented with rich history. There is a profound sentiment Ms. Laird emotes in her opening statement in the synopsis on the back cover of this book: "History tells us that a big lie, repeated often enough, can begin to sound as if it could be the truth..." I could not ignore the goosebumps that often rose on my arms when reading this book. There isn’t a traditional dialogue between Jenny and Martha, but the letters contain a profound and raw emotion that is a phenomenal guide for the reader to hear Jenny’s voice as she tackles a myriad of discussion points from letter to letter. This book is far more than a ‘good read.’ It is a lesson in the daunting reality of the capabilities of history repeating itself. Thank you for this tremendous body of work, Ms. Laird. You are a master of your pen and I have nothing but praise for your magnificent writing ability that supports your delivery.
Quill says: Letters From Jenny is a profound affirmation to the notion that history is more than capable of repeating itself.