During wartime, there are multiple ways of fighting an invading enemy. One way is doing combat on the battlefield. The other is joining the resistance and fighting in ways that are not obvious to the naked eye.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel, was published last year It starts in 2005. Eva Traube Abrams is a semi-retired librarian living in Florida. While putting her books away, she is drawn to an article in the New York Times. Within the article is the image of a book that Eva has not seen in decades-The Book of Lost Names. It describes the libraries that were looted by the Nazis and the attempt by modern-day authorities to return the books to their rightful owners. The book in the photograph contains a code that researchers are unable to crack. But Eva knows its secret.
The narrative flashes back to 1942. Eva was then a young woman living in Paris with her whole life ahead of her. But because she and her family are Jewish, there is a target on all of their backs. When her father is taken away, Eva and her mother escape to a small town in rural France that is not yet under Nazi control.
Joining the resistance, she starts forging documents for Jewish children who are trying to get to Switzerland. But this kind of work is dangerous in both the physical and emotional sense. Eva starts to fall for Remy, a young man with a handsome face and a charming demeanor. To save the real identities of the young ones she is trying to save, their real names are recorded in The Book of Lost Names. This work becomes even more important when Remy disappears and their network is betrayed.
As usual, Harmel writes in a way that is entertaining, readable and teaches the audience without hitting them over the head. As the main character, Eva is a compelling heroine. The story is absorbing and exciting. My problem is that the romance overwhelms the narrative. It almost felt like the love story took prominence over the war. I get that Eva is young and falling in love is part of being young, but I wish the emphasis was a bit more on the danger of their work.
Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.
The Book of Lost Names is available wherever books are sold.
Childhood should be a time of love, laughter, friendship, and innocence. But for some children, their early years are far from ideal.
Exile Music: A Novel, by Jennifer Steil, was published this month. Growing up in Vienna in the 1930’s, Orly lives a comfortable life. Her parents are professional musicians and her older brother is well regarded by the neighborhood. When she is not with her family, Orly spends her free time with her best friend, Anneliese. In 1938, her world is shattered by the Nazi invasion and the racial laws that quickly begin to restrict Jewish life.
After her brother flees to Switzerland, Orly and her parents are among the lucky few who find refuge in Bolivia. Settling in La Paz, they are strangers in a strange land. While Orly and her father make due, her mother is not quite ready to give up what they lost. She is also keeping a secret that if got out, could cause trouble. Decades later, when Anneliese comes back into her life, Orly has to make a choice. Does she stay in Bolivia with her family or return to Europe and pick up where she and Anneliese left off?
I really enjoyed reading this book. Orly is relatable character. Her voice and growth throughout the novel felt organic and true to the various stages of life that we go through as we grow up. I also appreciated the undercurrent of the LGBTQ storyline. Instead of feeling forced to make the book stand out, Steil includes in a way that gives her main character a layer and an extra oomph that is not often seen in this genre and this period in history.
Though sex and sexuality is part and parcel of human nature, it is often viewed as something dangerous and wrong.
For decades, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (aka Dr. Ruth), has been America’s sex therapist. The 2019 Hulu documentary movie, Ask Dr. Ruth, tells her story. Born in 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany, everything was normal for the first ten years of her life. When it became clear that being a Jew in Germany was dangerous, Ruth (then known by her first name, Karola) was sent to Switzerland on the Kindertransport.
At the age of 17, she emigrated to what was then British controlled Palestine (pre-Independence Israel) and joined the Haganah. Years later, she again emigrated to the United States. Living in New York City, she married, raised her two children and became the woman we know her to be today.
The thing I love about her is that at nearly 100 years old, she has the energy of a woman half her age. She represents hope, life, change, and that a woman can never be limited to what she can do because she is “female”. Her presence first on the radio and then on television, helped to open the door to long overdue conversations about sex and sexuality.