Review: The Curator’s Daughter by Melanie Dobson


1940. Hanna Tillich cherishes her work as an archaeologist for the Third Reich, searching for the Holy Grail and other artifacts to bolster evidence of a master Aryan race. But when she is reassigned to work as a museum curator in Nuremberg, then forced to marry an SS officer and adopt a young girl, Hanna begins to see behind the Nazi facade. A prayer labyrinth becomes a storehouse for Hanna’s secrets, but as she comes to love Lilly as her own daughter, she fears that what she’s hiding–and what she begins to uncover–could put them both in mortal danger.

Eighty years later, Ember Ellis is a Holocaust researcher intent on confronting hatred toward the Jewish people and other minorities. She reconnects with a former teacher on Martha’s Vineyard after she learns that Mrs. Kiehl’s mother once worked with the Nazi Ahnenerbe. And yet, Mrs. Kiehl describes her mother as “a friend to the Jewish people.” Wondering how both could be true, Ember helps Mrs. Kiehl regain her fractured childhood memories of World War II while at the same time confronting the heartache of her own secret past–and the person who wants to silence Ember forever.

Source: Purchase Rating: 3/5 stars

Mrs. Kiehl has spent her life in service of others; as a schoolteacher, Mrs. Kiehl strove to educate and enlighten her students often using the stories of her own family’s past to illustrate her points.  Over the course of her career, Mrs. Kiehl inspired many students, but none so much as Ember Ellis.

Ember Ellis has a dark and miserable past that she works daily to forget.  Thanks to her beloved former teacher Mrs. Kiehl, Ember has set her career goals on exposing the crimes of the past in an effort to prevent the atrocities of the past from being repeated.  Ember’s research and teaching are devoted to the war crimes of the Third Reich and the treatment of Jews.  One of Ember’s overriding goals of her research is to find just one person, one tremendously courageous human who risked everything to help those being targeted by the Nazi party. 

When Ember reads an interview with her former teacher, she thinks she may have found that person, that missing link that will help her complete her dissertation.  Visiting Mrs. Kiehl takes Ember down a path of her past she has vowed never to return to; while self-preservation is certainly on her mind, Ember’s desire to uncover a truth, expose a true hero is greater.  Though Mrs. Kiehl is thrilled to have Ember back in her life, she doesn’t have a great deal to offer outside of tidbits and snippets of information.  Though the information isn’t much, it is a clue to a trail Ember is determined to follow.

As soon as Ember touches down in Nuremberg, she begins following the minuscule leads she has gathered.  With the help from a most unlikely source, Ember’s leads lead to other leads which eventually leads to a truth that changes the fabric of many, many lives.  Ember’s research uncovers truths long thought lost and perhaps would have been had a young researcher with a deplorable past of her own hadn’t come along and exposed the lives, values, risks, and triumphs of a small network of men and women determined to fight against evil. 

The Bottom Line:  I normally enjoy and past meets present story, but I found great portions of the present part of this story to be extraneous and unnecessary.  Stripping much of Ember’s backstory would have made these chapters of the book far more interesting and enjoyable.  What’s more, the chapters of the book dedicated to the past are particularly strong and could easily stand on their own as a single story.  I very much enjoyed the chapters dedicated to the past, to the courageous woman who occupied that time and place and faced insurmountable odds in an effort to fight against their own countrymen.  These chapters reveal both the horror and the tremendous spirit of the human heart, and I found them most revealing and uplifting.  Even through the horrific moments, there were flashes of faith and kindness that had me rooting for the underdog.

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