This story very insidiously burrows its way under your skin and you cannot shake it off until you reach the end. There is an eeriness about each character and a tension that is so taught that it grips your heart as you read through. At the same time, you cannot help but feel a tenderness for each of the characters and it paints each in a human light, that is neither good nor bad, but very, very human.
It is the story of two main characters who are unconnected and wind their way toward each other in a most circuitous way. One is Marie-Laure, the young, blind daughter of the locksmith for the natural history museum of Paris, just before the German occupation of WWII. The second is a young German orphan named Werner, who is mesmerized by radios and sees his curiosity and natural ability in engineering as his ticket out of his small, mining village. The story bounces back and forth between the two, and keeps the reader absolutely on the edge of her seat. It is almost impossible to put down, actually.
While this is yet another book about WWII, it is a very different perspective on it. There is very little about the treatment of Jews; rather, the focus is mainly on the effect of the German occupation of France. In addition, there is also the struggle between the ideas of bad and good, and the idea that “bad” can be defined as not doing good. Werner, in particular, struggles with this in a vivid way.
This is a heart-wrenching story but a beautifully written one that I would heartily recommend!
The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman
This is the beautifully written saga of Lenka and Josef who fall in love in the late 1930’s in the romantic city of Prague, just prior to the onset of WWII. The war separates them tragically and the story tells the tale of their lives during and after the war. Lenka is caught in the Nazi web of ghetto, deportation, and concentration camps. The reader feels her hunger and filth and cold along with her, it is made so real. Josef manages to escape to America, but the loss of his family is a silent ache that he secretly bears his whole life. Eventually, life brings them together but only after they have lived thinking the other had died during the war.
This book is a love story but it is filled with well-researched historical fiction, with more history than fiction. Some of the characters that the author has woven into the story were real people that the author learned about in her research of the Holocaust. The author highlights, in particular, the artwork that was done by both the children and the adults in Theresin, the showcase camp set up by the Germans. These brave souls depicted, in their art, the hideous conditions in which they were living and some of their paintings and drawings were able to be leaked out to the world for publication. Many more were uncovered after the inmates were liberated. This book celebrated the many brave souls, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who fought their own artistic battle with their Nazi captors.
What was also unique about this book was how the author highlighted the tragedy not only of those who lived through the concentration camps but also those who escaped but lost family, homes and all that was familiar to them. While those who lived through the camps suffered unimaginable horrors, those who were forced to leave their homes, their possessions, their birthplaces, were also displaced and traumatized in their own ways. Those who came to America had to learn a new language, become familiar with an entirely different culture and learn to cope with the losses they inevitably endured. In addition, the “survivors guilt” must have been overwhelming. I love that this book brought this to light, showing further how the Holocaust caused such far-reaching suffering and tragedy.