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Reviews of We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein

We Must Not Think of Ourselves

by Lauren Grodstein

We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein X
We Must Not Think of Ourselves by Lauren Grodstein
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  • Published:
    Nov 2023, 304 pages


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Book Summary

A heart-wrenching story of love and defiance set in the Warsaw Ghetto, based on the actual archives kept by those determined to have their stories survive World War II

A Read with Jenna Book Club Pick and named a Best Book of 2023 by Kirkus Reviews (Best Fiction Books of the Year & Best Historical Fiction of 2023)

On a November day in 1940, Adam Paskow becomes a prisoner in the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Jews of the city are cut off from their former lives and held captive by Nazi guards, and await an uncertain fate. Weeks later, he is approached by a mysterious figure with a surprising request: Will he join a secret group of archivists working to preserve the truth of what is happening inside these walls? Adam agrees and begins taking testimonies from his students, friends, and neighbors. He learns about their childhoods and their daydreams, their passions and their fears, their desperate strategies for safety and survival. The stories form a portrait of endurance in a world where no choices are good ones.

One of the people Adam interviews is his flatmate Sala Wiskoff, who is stoic, determined, and funny—and married with two children. Over the months of their confinement, in the presence of her family, Adam and Sala fall in love. As they desperately carve out intimacy, their relationship feels both impossible and vital, their connection keeping them alive. But when Adam discovers a possible escape from the Ghetto, he is faced with an unbearable choice: Whom can he save, and at what cost?

Inspired by the testimony-gathering project with the code name Oneg Shabbat, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Grodstein draws readers into the lives of people living on the edge. Told with immediacy and heart, We Must Not Think of Ourselves is a piercing story of love, determination, and sacrifice for the many fans of literary World War II fiction such as Kristin Harmel's The Book of Lost Names and Lauren Fox's Send for Me.

Coming soon

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Why did Emanuel Ringelblum create the Oneg Shabbat project? How did the project's goals change as the novel progressed?
  2. Why do you think more people didn't try to escape from the ghetto?
  3. Everything in the ghetto is a trade. What are some of the various economic systems that keep the Jews alive?
  4. In what ways are the children at the heart of ghetto life?
  5. What is Szifra's attitude toward her brothers? Why doesn't she abandon them?
  6. Although Adam never had children of his own, he takes on various paternal roles throughout the novel. What kind of father figure is he to Szifra? To her brothers? To Sala's boys? What is he attempting to teach them through poetry?
  7. What kind of man do you think Nowak, the guard who helped Adam, ...
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Media Reviews

Historical Novels Review
[A] penetrating novel… Grodstein movingly re-creates the circumstances behind [Oneg Shabbat's] creation…a memorable standout.

Montecito Journal
Profound… This will move you to tears.

Grodstein expertly weaves the tale of this lonely storyteller, his students and the families he lives with into the true history of the Oneg Shabbat project. Gripping, emotional, and, against all odds, hopeful.

Kim Hubbard, New York Times Book Review
[A]ccomplished…This is a tender, heartbreaking novel that grapples with timeless questions. Is collaboration forgivable? Can sparks of human kindness, however tiny, fend off hopelessness in the face of evil?

Lilith Magazine
[A] crucial, compelling, and important new novel.

Washington Post
[A] gripping historical novel.

Associated Press
Lauren Grodstein's masterpiece… an extraordinary work of historical fiction.

Beyond The Bookends
This heart-wrenching tale explores love, defiance, and sacrifice in the face of unimaginable circumstances, making it a compelling addition to the literary World War II fiction genre.


[A] moving chronicle, a worthy tribute to those who fought to survive the unthinkable.

Emotionally charged and meticulously researched, We Must Not Think of Ourselves pays homage to the Oneg Shabbat's goal of honoring the Jewish people by bearing witness to the entirety of their experience. This is a compelling and compassionate tribute that will resonate deeply with readers.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] delicate, warm account of a brutal, cold time, grounded in humanity, small details, and unwavering clarity.

Shelf Awareness
[R]ealistic, heartrending… Thought-provoking, tender, and horrifying, this memorable novel of Jewish lives in the Warsaw Ghetto offers timeless lessons.

Library Journal
Grodstein brings to life a critical piece of history with her strong sense of place and complex characters... [The Oneg Shabbat archive] is represented beautifully in Grodstein's first historical novel, supported by her intensive research and the book's dynamic relationships that show the value of everyday intimacies. Recommended for readers who enjoy stories from all time periods about the extraordinary actions of ordinary people.

Publishers Weekly
Grodstein makes her persecuted characters achingly human... This will stay with readers.

Author Blurb Lauren Fox, New York Times bestselling author of Send for Me
In We Must Not Think of Ourselves, Lauren Grodstein writes with such a blazing commitment to the truth of the Warsaw Ghetto that sometimes I had to stop reading and catch my breath. But in the midst of the brutality, she clears a path for the parallel stories of love and decency. Make no mistake: this is a heartbreaking portrait of a dark moment. But this novel shimmers with light.

Author Blurb Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of One Two Three
We Must Not Think of Ourselves is one of those rare books—beautifully written, seamlessly constructed, quietly devastating—that manages to tell an old story in a new way with no pyrotechnics beyond perfect storytelling, including an ending that will stay with me always. It is far and away my favorite novel of the year, of many years, and I know I will be recommending it to readers forevermore.

Author Blurb Madeline Miller, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Circe and The Song of Achilles
This book is a masterpiece: profound, gripping, urgent, and beautiful. In its clear-eyed and devastating portrait of the past, Grodstein invites us into the present; to bear witness to the lives that have come before us, while finding meaning and courage for our own.

Reader Reviews

Lawal Temiloluwa Dorcas

Not being self-centered
This book teaches us not to be self-centered but caring about others too.

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