The Things We Cherished

Written by Pam Jenoff
Review by Ellen Keith

The Things We Cherished is a mesmerizing read in the vein of Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. Instead of an iconic haggadah, a clock made by a Bavarian Jew in 1903 holds the key to the defense of Roger Dykmans, an elderly businessman currently charged as a war criminal, accused of betraying his own brother, war hero Hans Dykmans. Charlotte Gold, a public defender in Philadelphia is persuaded by her former boyfriend to go to Germany and defend his client. In Munich, Charlotte finds herself working with Jack Warrington, her ex-boyfriend Brian’s brother, who has always held her at a distance. Their client refuses to aid in his own defense but does allow that if his lawyers find the clock, it will exonerate him. The narrative alternates between Charlotte and Jack’s investigations in Poland and Italy in 2009, the making of the clock in 1903, a younger Roger’s experiences in Breslau in the 1940s, falling in love with his brother’s wife, and a young woman named Anneke’s attempt to leave East Berlin in the 1960s.

Each narrative is engrossing in its own right. Charlotte, as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, has personal interest in the case and a gift for this type of investigation, based on slender clues and incomplete records. Roger’s story is heartbreaking, both as he witnesses the rise of the Nazis and erosion of the Jews and as he falls for his brother’s wife, herself a Jew, and must make a difficult choice. The narrative set in the present serves to remind the reader of devastation that the Third Reich continues to wreak on generations. For all its grave subject matter, Jenoff ends the book on a note of hope, testament to the strength of the human race.