The Things We Cherished is an interesting piece of historical fiction centering on a war crime committed during World War II, a crime that cost the life of the alleged war criminal’s brother, as well as the lives of several hundred Jewish children he was on the brink of saving. Now, more than six decades later, Roger Dykmans, the man accused of betraying his own brother, is refusing to defend himself against the accusations of those who believe he should be imprisoned for the remainder of his life.
Charlotte Gold, a Philadelphia public defender, is startled one morning to find her longtime ex-lover waiting for her inside her drab office. Despite being a bit dismayed by both her physical and her emotional reactions to the man, Charlotte finds herself agreeing to help Brian build a defense for Roger Dykmans. However, upon her arrival in Germany to work on the case, Charlotte finds that she will be spending much more time working with Brian’s estranged brother, Jack, than she will be spending with Brian.
As Charlotte and Jack begin the research that will see them searching the old man’s childhood home for evidence that would prove him innocent, the novel settles into a series of flashbacks that conclude at the time of the crime that Roger Dykmans is accused of having committed. At the heart of the story is an antique anniversary clock that changes hands every decade or two, until it rests, finally, with the Dykmans family. In separate flashbacks, we witness the clock being constructed by a simple farmer who learned the trade from his father, and follow it as it passes from one loving couple to the next for most of the next century.
Ultimately, the anniversary clock will determine the fate of Roger Dykmans.
The Things We Cherished, as plotted by Pam Jenoff, works; it has a story to tell, and it gets the job done. I do, however, think it would have worked even better if less attention, and fewer pages, had been given to the budding romance between Charlotte and Jack. While it is true that the modern romance uncannily mimics the World War II romance experienced by Roger Dykmans, it does little to advance the story other than to emotionally bond Charlotte to the old man. The Things We Cherished would have been much stronger if it had been constructed as a novel of historical fiction with elements of romance thrown into the mix. As it is, it reads more like a romance novel with some historical fiction thrown in for good measure. That is not as close to the same thing as it might sound.
Rated at: 3.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)