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HFC Editorial Review of "Sentence of Death Denied" by Anita Tiemeyer

Author Bio

Anita Tiemeyer was born and raised in Columbus, Indiana. She graduated with honors in music education and history from Western Illinois University in 1980. She was a member of the 539th Air Force Band stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, from 1983-1991. She performed on oboe and alto saxophone in several groups, touring the southwest United States. She was awarded her master's of music degree from Butler University in 1995, and she was a free-lance musician in Central Indiana for many years. She has maintained a private music lesson studio for over thirty-five years.

Being a storyteller since childhood, Anita started putting her creative work to paper in 1999. Her original book, The Guardian's Son, follows the life of Joe Kaufmann, a child survivor from the Buchenwald concentration camp. As the book was originally over 900 pages, she has split it into six novels, which can be read individually or as a series. Her first published novel, A Brother for Sorrows, is book four. Readers will be drawn into Joe's mental and emotional struggles as he tries to come to terms with his memories of the concentration camp experience that plague him for his entire life. There is a wealth of diverse, complex characters, plot twists, and expansive, descriptive settings. Because of her love of history, Anita has thoroughly researched these books for historical accuracy.

Anita has also written several short stories. These are parables with a moral lesson. The characters are faced to make choices when confronted with greed, deception, and lies that put their livelihoods on the line. They are challenged to make difficult decisions that test their honesty, compassion, and integrity.

Anita resides in Indianapolis. Beside her passion for writing and music, she maintains several vigorous gardens and enjoys movies, reading, baking, and hiking.

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Editorial Review

Mildred knew this path would not be easy. The unfortunate first six years of his life had to be severed so it could wither away like an unwanted sapling in one of her Hosta garden beds.

Having read the other two installments of ‘the Joe Kaufman’ series, I knew where this one fit into the series storyline, but even without that knowledge, this book can be read as a standalone; however, I encourage any reader of this novel to read all three and watch this young boy go from the horrors of the Buchenwald Concentration camp in Germany to a young man at Cornell University in the United States.

But his journey is fraught with problems, as would be the case for anyone who witnessed and experienced the nightmares under the Nazi regime. In this book, in 1950, Joe Kaufman is in the ninth-grade at Boynton Junior High School in Ithaca, New York, and he is like any typical teenage boy whose braces and pimply face cannot hide the fact that he is a walking raging hormone machine with his sights set on Alyssa Broderick, whose sweet face is hiding a devouring seductress underneath her facade. In one fell swoop, she seduces him, and in Joe’s innocence, he falls hard for her, imagining himself in love and completely oblivious to her wicked exploitation.

Like dominoes, the troubles continue for Joe – one after another – as he is attacked by bullies at the school who discover his Jewish heritage, disparaging him with racial insults all because he won’t help them cheat on a test. Even after he appears on the outside to recover from the attack and regains his momentum in his schooling and music lessons, he is left in a very fragile state. And then, without warning, he disappears from his family home one night. For eight days his family searches for him and when he is found, his guardian admits him to a psychiatric hospital to treat not only the amnesia he is suffering from, but also the past that he is desperate not to discuss.

The hospital stay is a battlefield, one where both Dr. Montgomery, his psychiatrist, and his guardian, Grayson, fight to keep Joe alive. But Joe is teetering on the edge of a precipice over that hole of Buchenwald as the depression slides him back into believing he should have died in the camp with his real father.

But more secrets come out during his hospital stay – the toxic relationship with Alyssa and her own feelings towards Jews, Joe’s doubts about religion and the suffering he has experienced, not only from the Nazis but also from supposed religious-minded people in Grayson’s own household (i.e. - Grayson’s Catholic mother), the boys who beat him... and the revelation of a separate vicious attack which left him unconscious in the school cafeteria.

The key to all of this is Joe’s realization of those who have stuck by him through all the ups and downs. Grayson, his guardian, the one who saved him from Buchenwald, never gives up on him even with his own failings and his parental hovering which relates more to his own insecurities than with any true observation of Joe’s problems. And then, there is Irene, Grayson’s daughter, who from the beginning to the end sticks by Joe and supports him, even as they see-saw between fighting like cats and dogs, to a spark of ‘something else’.

Without a doubt, this is an in-depth insight into the mind and life of a teenage boy, and sometimes the view is quite scary, sometimes it is... well, just full of ‘one thing on his mind’ thanks to the medical books on Grayson’s bookshelves that he scours over late at night while researching female anatomy... and rifling through Irene’s underwear drawer... and the secret rendezvous’s with Alyssa in the band room closet at the school.

But, all in all, this book serves to round out Joe’s character as a fully functional human, with flaws, with a painful past, and with ambitions for a hopeful future while attempting to climb seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way. All of this makes his character quite relatable to the reader. For the most part, this book is a bridge between ‘The Guardian’s Son’ to ‘A Brother for Sorrows’, a necessary one, but not one which rises to the five star level of those two books. It is fine writing, and fits into the series quite snugly, but for me, as a reader, I felt a little too distracted by the hormones flooding through the storyline to concentrate on the real reasons for Joe’s depression, which was, of course, his desire to have died in the camp and the reasons behind his feelings. I understand everyone’s role in the story which bring Joe to the pinnacle of the narrative, but the conclusion left me a little wanting, which might have been the author’s intention so as to segway into the next book.

However, all this being said, Ms Tiemeyer is a masterful storyteller and this entire series, taken as a whole, is a five star project and worthy of a read from anyone who loves a good personal story of life after Nazi Germany. She has an incredible gift for descriptions, such as the time when Joe searches through Grayson’s desk - ‘other than an old packet of stinky black pills, a set of dentures, and a rolled-up tobacco pouch, the drawers only contained crackly papers, file folders, clipboards, and a stale, half-eaten roll of Lifesavers.” (This made me laugh - did all of our dads have this desk?); not to mention the story about ‘Mr Henry’, the much beloved cat of the household, or the visual of Mrs. Frost, the etiquette teacher! As a recommendation, though, I suggest starting with the first book in this series and reading all three straight through.

“Sentence of Death Denied” by Anita Tiemeyer has earned four stars by The Historical Fiction Company


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