An accused Nazi collaborator, a forbidden love affair, and the missing antique clock that holds the truth about what really happened during the war. These are the mysteries that Charlotte Gold seeks to unravel as she races against time to defend elderly financier Roger Dykmans from allegations that he sold out his own brother, Hans, and the group of innocent children he was trying to save to the Germans. And she has to do it all while confronting her feelings for her co-counsel Jack Warrington, who just happens to be the brother of the man who once broke her heart.
The inspiration for The Things We Cherished came from a unique timepiece, known as an anniversary clock, which my husband gave me for our first wedding anniversary. I was captivated by the question of where the hundred year-old clock had been and the lives it had touched. As I imagined its history a tale unfolded of a couple at the turn of the century in Bavaria yearning for a better life, two brothers in Weimar Berlin wrestling with issues of Zionism and assimilation, the desperate quest of a young girl trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and of course Roger’s own story of love and sacrifice during the war. The clock became a metaphor for the experience of the Jewish people and others in in 20th century Europe.
The story enabled me to explore real-life events and issues too. I was fascinated by the assassination of German Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau, who had been warned by Einstein, among others, to take precautions for his safety. Centring the book around the prosecution of Nazi war criminals today also allowed me to delve into some complex questions, such as the value of prosecuting these decades old crimes for larger symbolic value as well as the cases themselves.
Readers familiar with my earlier books such as The Kommandant’s Girl will know that that the Second World War is an era particularly dear to my heart. I worked in Poland in the mid-nineties as a diplomat for the State Department, specializing in Polish-Jewish relations and Holocaust issues, which had lain unresolved during the Communist era but then needed to be addressed. I also became very close to members of the surviving Jewish community. I especially enjoyed writing The Things We Cherished because it enabled me to return to the topics of Jewish life in Europe and the Holocaust. The era provides such fertile ground for exploring complex themes such guilt, redemption and sacrifice, the grey areas in our lives and the consequences of the choices we make. I consider this book to be, first and foremost, an elegy, love poem and tribute to those who lived through those tumultuous times.
The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff is published by Sphere as a paperback original on the 10th November 2011, £6.99