Kate Breslin's For Such a Time tells the story of Esther, but in a new setting: the Holocaust. Hadassah Benjamin, known to the Nazi world as Stella Muller, was born with the fair hair and blue eyes of her Dutch grandmother. To save her from the Nazis, her uncle procured false papers denoting Aryan ancestry, but when the Nazis come to take away the Jews, she is taken too, regardless of her papers. When SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt discovers the error and rescues her from a firing squad in Dachau, he gives her a wig to hide her shorn head and makes her his secretary at his post at a transit camp in Czechoslovakia. Having attained the Kommandant's ear and affections, Stella appeals to his compassion to try to save her people, but what can one man and one woman do, when any moment they could be executed right along with the Jews?
While the plot of the story is pure fiction, many places and the conditions Breslin describes were very real - the transit camps, the packed trains, disease, starvation, inadequate clothing - painting a harsh picture of one of the world's greatest atrocities. The beauty and comfort of the Kommandant's house lies in stark contrast to the harsh reality of the ghetto, but even the house is not a place of safety; it more resembles a gilded cage.
Though this is a retelling of Esther, the author does not hold to every exact detail of the original, but rather shifts things around to best fit the setting and history. I like how each chapter begins with a verse from Esther and that the author includes the little details reminiscent of the original, especially the names - Hermann (Haman), Aric (Ahasuerus), and Stella (meaning "star," same as Esther). I was curious whether Stella would be a Christian (since one can both be of Jewish ethnicity and a Christian); while she is not, God is actively pursuing her, and in the midst of her trials she finds encouragement in the bible, both old and new testaments.
Through Stella's journey, Breslin highlights that even in the worst of situations, where logic states there should be no hope left, God is there. We question what kind of God would allow such atrocities, but we tend to forget that He gave man free will - free to do good or evil - and if He only allowed the good, how could we have free will? However, this story shows His workings in the small things, where even in the midst of great horror, He still manages to bestow blessings and favor. And most of all, there is still hope regardless of the circumstances and outcomes.
A long, hearty read, the novel immediately snags the attention and refuses to let go. The characters are compelling, the setting vivid, the romance brimming with tension, and the plot full of surprises. An excellent, complex tale, bursting with tension and suspense - 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for a free e-copy for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.