Sunday Book Review – Why Didn’t They Leave by Eva Hnizdo – WWII #FamilySaga

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Today I’m reviewing Eva Hnizdo’s historical fiction book, taken from memoir – Why Didn’t They Leave? . This book was right up my reading alley. The book begins in the late 1930s Czechoslovakia just as WWII is heating up. A family saga that takes us into the life of three generations of women – Franzi, her daughter Magda, and spans through the decades of change into the early 2000’s as told by Magda’s daughter, Zuzana. This is a story of life-altering change, fear, humanity, and how each generation of women coped with war and its devastating effects on body, mind, and spirit, and an understanding for Zuzana born of another generation, struggling to learn why her relationship was strained with her mother from resentments to a final understanding.

Blurb:

You can’t ask for asylum in another country just because your mother drives you nuts, so when 19-year-old Zuzana flees from communist Czechoslovakia to England in 1972, she says she just wants freedom. Her relationship with her mother, Magda – a Holocaust survivor who lost most of her family in the concentration camps – is toxic and Zuzana finds happiness in London with a loving husband and beautiful son.

But when her mother dies, Zuzana is crushed by guilt and feels an overwhelming urge to discover more about her family’s tragic history. So, she embarks on a life-changing journey, discovers some incredible stories and tries to answer the question which haunts her: Why didn’t they leave?

“Eva Hnizdo’s Why Didn’t They Leave illuminates the lives of one extended family from the beginning of Naziism. With meticulous detail and heart-wrenching scenes Hnizdo offers answers through her characters’ actions as to why some chose to remain in their homeland and others fled. A story filled with history and heartache… survival and hope.” – Julie Maloney, author and founder/director of Women Reading Aloud

“Eva Hnizdo has turned her own story into a gripping work of fiction that follows a secular Czech Jewish family’s fortunes during World War Two through communism to a multi-cultural life in Britain. Her book says much about prejudice and tolerance, survivors’ guilt and the emotional challenges of motherhood, all through the voice of her extrovert and sexy heroine.” – Brigid Grauman, journalist and author of Uncle Otto’s Puppet Theatre

Zuzana is haunted by the choices that her family made during the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and later during the Communist regime. Her discoveries make for a compelling story of loyalty, love, and courage.” – Jacqueline Sheehan, author

Eva Hnizdo is a Jewish Czech, born in Prague in 1953. She is the granddaughter of a man who lost his life by deciding not to emigrate in 1938, and a daughter of parents who, after surviving the Holocaust, spent most of their adult lives under an oppressive communist regime. Eva studied medicine at Charles University in Prague and became a doctor. She escaped to the West in 1986 and obtained political asylum in the UK in 1987 with her husband and two sons. She worked as a full-time GP partner at the same surgery in Watford for twenty-three years. Now retired, she spends her time writing.

My 5 Star Review:

Magda is 13, it’s 1940 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The Germans are taking over the country and Magda and her brother Oskar have already been booted from school, while their mother is sewing yellow Stars of David on their clothing. At first Magda thinks the stars look cool, then quickly realizes after getting pushed and shoved on the street, the star is a calling card for attention. Magda’s family was privileged and Magda’s mother Franzi and her husband Bruno did well with buying off SS agents by giving them many family possessions to avoid deportation to Theresienstadt, but by 1942 her family was finally deported. Some survived, some didn’t. When liberation finally came, Magda and her mother lived through the brutal and lean times and were lucky to be given back their home in Czechoslavakia.

Magda at 18 reinserts herself back into the school system and studies hard to graduate high school after missing four years of school and succeeds. She marries Mirek after she graduates and they live with her mother Franzi. Franzi mourns the loss of her husband, her son and all others while Magda wants to go on, avoiding the memories and deaths. By 1948 communism was taking over the Czech oslovakia and government was taking over private businesses, those who didn’t comply were sent to jails. It was like war was back but within their own country. Magda and Mirek were urged to leave in the late 40s, but Magda didn’t want to leave her mother. By 1952 they were stuck there. Anyone caught trying to leave the country was jailed.

In 1953 Magda gave birth to daughter Zuzana and was happy to let her mother Franzi do everything and look after her daughter while she kept occupied, entrenched in her job. By this time Mirek was already cheating on moody Magda. Magda decided she didn’t want her daughter to be Jewish so she convinced her unwilling husband to have Zuzana baptized to protect her from being a persecuted Jew, as anti-semitism was running rampant even after the war, especially while Czechoslovakia was under communism. When Zuzana was age 9, Mirek left Magda. He was tired of her whining and lack of interest in cultural things he liked to do. And he wasn’t happy about not giving their daughter a religion to practice, as Magda only wanted the baptism to protect her child from future incidence of anti-semitism, without teaching her about any religion.

In the mid 60s, Magda went to visit Bavaria. She was stunned at all the beautiful goods for sale in stores – something they didn’t have in the Czechoslovakia. Her pent up anger at Germans had her stealing from stores because she felt entitled after the Germans seemed to have stolen much more from her. Her passive- aggressive anger lingered.

By 1964, Zuzana was a young teenager who protested all her mother’s good intentions for her. Magda tries to send Zuzana for dance lessons but Zuzana doesn’t like it, doesn’t like girlie things or dresses. Magda wants to give her daughter everything she didn’t have, but Zuzana is rebellious. Zuzana prefers wearing pants and reading books to dresses and parties. Magda is often bitter at her daughter’s reactions to all her plans for her, as though Magda wanted to live what she missed out on vicariously through her daughter. Magda often mumbles to herself that her daughter doesn’t know how lucky she is to have access to clothes, classes and adventures as Magda internally remembers her time imprisoned during the Holocaust. But Magda stays firm in her decision not to tell Zuzana about her imprisonment or how so many family members actually died in the Holocaust. She never even told Zuzana they were really Jewish.

Part two of the book is Zuzana’s story in the year beginning back at 1966, til the early 2000s. Now married Zuzana with a 13 year old son, Adam, tells her husband Harry that she changed schools when she was a teenager where she could learn more languages, adding that her mother got her in through black market connections, which she reiterates was really such a thing.

In 1967 Zuzana’s Uncle Otto and his wife came back to Czechoslovakia to visit his remaining family and he went to the synagogue with Zuzana, her mother and grandmother Olga. This was the first time Zuzana realized that it was not only the communist anti-fascists who were killed in the war, but innocent people, including her own family. Until then, Zuzana had been sheltered from knowing about war and the fact that she was an actual Jew. As an avid book reader, Zuzana began to read ‘different’ books that were starting to appear on the shelves – stories about the Holocaust.

As a late teen, Zuzana left the country, organized by her rich Uncle Otto and moved to England where she went to university and lived out her dreams of freedom, education, meeting people from different races and falling in love with her to be black husband Harry who became a pharmacist.

Zuzana felt she didn’t love her mother because Magda nagged her all the time and never gave her daughter a compliment, almost trying so hard to force her daughter to do the things Magda never had the chance to do. The tension remained between mother and daughter throughout the story until Magda’s ultimate death, when Zuzana learned from Uncle Otto what really happened to their family during the war, and this opened up a world of curiosity for Zuzana about her real heritage inspiring her desire to travel to America to meet the sparse family who survived the war and ultimately, moved to America. Then Zuzana gets the rude awakening about how her mother survived and the PTSD effect it left on Magda that made her become the way she was. She meets up with aunts, uncles and cousins who were survivors and descendants of survivors, and her new discoveries give her a new sense of why her mother acted the way she did, discovering her mum not wanting to talk of what she lived was a shield for herself and the PTSD she suffered through the rest of her life from what she lived through. Zuz learns that she shouldn’t have judged her mother and once Magda dies, Zuz’s grief becomes overwhelming. As Zuzana begins to have regrets in this new appreciation for her mother, we begin to learn the true effects the war had on this one family.

This is a story about a family caught up in the brink of war, during the war, and their lives in the aftermath. It deals with racism, anti-semitism, communism, humanitarianism and inhumanity. Fascinating on many levels with the intricately woven characters and going deep learning how and why these people were shaped. Yes it takes place during the Holocaust, but it’s about people’s individual lives, living through hell, and how they become after. This is the story of one once large family torn by war, how they survived, why some left in time, and why some chose to stay behind.

©DGKaye2022

Sunday Book Review – Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay – #HistoricalFiction

My Sunday Book Review was a riveting read by Tatiana De Rosnay – Sarah’s Key. Once again I came across this moving book after a fellow author shared her own gripping review for the book. As many of you know I’m drawn to historical fiction – particularly in the WWII era. As much as my empathy has me turning away from violence and abuse, I am drawn to the stories that take me on a journey of trying to understand the human condition and the triumph of those that survive the heinous war. The atrocities of war don’t always have to relate to the physical violence, but the atrocities of mankind that instill fear in those living daily struggling to survive is equally frightening, sometimes more than a hand or a stick being struck against them.

 

 

Blurb:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

 

My 5 Star Review (Really 4.5 stars, read on to discover why)

In this heart-grabbing story, it is told in two eras – the present day 2002) , where American journalist Julia – living in Paris for the past 25 years, is hired to do a story on the 60th anniversary of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup by the French police, where 13,000 Jews were suddenly snatched from their homes in Paris, July 1942 and disappeared. Julia comes across a list of families taken on that fateful night, and later finds on the death list, one girl’s name is missing, despite her name being on the roundup list. Where did Sarah go? In the now, we are taken into Julia’s erratic life, marriage and stunningly, a common bond she discovers with Sarah of the past when Julia’s husband has chosen a new apartment for them to live in Paris.

Is it possible for anyone to survive the death camps? What happened to Sarah after that fateful night on July 16, 1942 after she and her parents were taken along with 13,000 others to the Velodrome stadium in Paris, once a sports arena, left to starve as they waited for days til their fates were sealed? Their crimes? They were Jews. The children were taken elsewhere separately and murdered, so as not to cause ‘alarm’ to onlooking citizens, while they watched parents loaded  onto buses headed for the train station and then loaded on like cattle in cattle trains, and were taken to their immediate deaths in Auschwitz.

In Julia’s investigation to try and solve what happened to Sarah from 1942, she travels from Paris to a farm community in Orleans, back to Paris, and then Italy where a lead takes her. When she returns to Paris she must deal with her newly discovered pregnancy that her philandering husband isn’t too excited about. Until she grows a pair and leaves him (finally) and moves back to New York.

The two stories converge when later, Julia discovers an incredible and heart-wrenching link between her husband’s family and Sarah’s family.

I found Julia’s life was a bit blase with some unnecessary filler, and I did not like the character of her husband and found Julia wasn’t empowering enough by staying way too long with her philandering husband. I can’t help but wonder how the book might have been more intense if it was told by Sarah in its entirety. Julia was banal, lacking dimension and gumption.  But this book was a great read with lots to keep me turning the pages. One of those – hard to put down books – despite my not loving the protagonist’s weakness as a woman. But Sarah’s story was absolutely riveting. And because Sarah’s story was riveting I’m giving this book 5 stars instead of 4 with my 4 1/2 actual rating (I deducted only half off for Julia’s lack of depth), because it was a fantastic, although disheartening story.

 

*NBFor those unfamilar with the Vel d’Hiv capture, even France liked to keep it under wraps for decades, ashamed to speak of their part in thousands of Jewish deaths. The roundup was the largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust.  Vel d’Hiv and how it began with the German occupation in France.

 

©DGKaye2020

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Sunday Book Review – The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

My Sunday Book Review is for Alice Hoffman’s soul-grabbing book – The World That We Knew. I was drawn to this book while surfing on my Canadian bookstore site- Chapters-Indigo. While searching for another book, I couldn’t overlook the ‘recommended by Heather’ books, who is the CEO of the book chain and has yet to steer me wrong with one of her picks. This is a book I struggled to put down every time I had to, and it played on my mind until I could get back to reading. A haunting yet beautiful page-turning story of magical/realism, and of love and death, power and evil, persecution and freedom, and all the heart-tugging components in between. I can safely say that it’s my most favorite book of the year!

 

 

Blurb:

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

 

This instant New York Times bestseller and longlist recipient for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal takes place in 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, and follows three unforgettable young women who must act with courage and love to survive.

“[A] hymn to the power of resistance, perseverance, and enduring love in dark times…gravely beautiful…Hoffman the storyteller continues to dazzle.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Oh, what a book this is! Hoffman’s exploration of the world of good and evil, and the constant contest between them, is unflinching; and the humanity she brings to us—it is a glorious experience.” —ELIZABETH STROUT, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge

“Alice Hoffman’s new novel will break your heart, and then stitch it back together piece by piece. It’s my new favorite Hoffman book.” —JODI PICOULT, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

 

My 5 Star Plus Review:

A haunting journey of survival through darkness, in search of the light.

This is a story that begins in a place in one of the most horrific times of our modern era, l941 Berlin, Nazi Germany, focusing on courage and compassion, interspersed with nature’s beauty and love from both – those who demonstrated their compassion for the persecuted Jews and for the Jews themselves who had so little to survive on, yet still remained something of themselves to give to those worse off than themselves.

By 1941, Hanni Kohn’s doctor husband had already been killed on the street in front of their home. Hanni has only one daughter Lea, and she will do whatever it takes to save her daughter. Hanni knows the struggle to survive will only get worse in Berlin with the Jews having already lost all their human rights, curfews in place, Jews not allowed in public places, and deportation roundups becoming all too common. She knows she cannot flee with her daughter because she won’t leave her bed-ridden mother alone to die, so she comes up with an idea.

Some of Hanni’s most daring missions thus far had been her night time foraging for scraps of food to make what was dubbed ‘hardship soup’ with whatever she could dig up that still remained growing in the ground for that soup. Now Hanni’s idea was to go to the Rabbi’s hidden home with the only jewels she had left hidden in a suitcase lining under her bed with an offering, hoping the Rabbi could buy off a protector who could take her daughter Lea to safety – or where she thought it was still safe – Paris, to stay with her distant cousin’s – the Levi’s home.

The Rabbi’s wife practically shoos Hanni away as dawn was breaking to avoid anyone suspecting anything, when all the while the Rabbi’s ‘gifted’ teenager daughter Ettie overhears their conversation. Ettie too knows she wants to flee, despite her family’s decision to remain in Berlin. Ettie, through spending much of her life eavesdropping on the sacred ceremonies and prayers her Rabbi father has led in secret for years in the basement where the religious men came to pray with the Rabbi daily, decides it’s time to use her own power to help both Hanni’s desire and her own – to escape Berlin.

Ettie’s rabbinical knowledge of Jewish folklore and mysticism through her gift from God and her father’s teachings, ignites the idea she shares with Hanni- to construct a ‘golem’ – A figure built from clay and water from the nearby river, in the form of a human woman with strength beyond any human and a sense of all knowing. This golem would be Lea’s protector until Lea reached safety, then ultimately, the golem was to be destroyed after the mission, because if the golem survived too long, she would become too powerful. Ettie would join Lea and ‘Ava’ the newly built golem, on their escape, taking with her, her younger sister Marta to help save her too.

Ava is all knowing. She knows all thoughts and intentions and with the strength of any unmatched human, can hear and see angels, and speaks to nature. Ettie had mentioned that the golem wasn’t human so would harbor no emotions, her only mission was to keep Lea safe – but this story will prove that wrong. Ava could also see the black angel of death and instinctively knew when he had taken another life of someone she knew. “There’s nothing to go back to,” Ava remarked to herself when she heard the words in her head, “It was a dark dream. It was nothing like the world that we knew. Stones, murder, lice, greed, horror, birds falling from the sky, the grave you made for others, the grave you made for yourself . . .Keep her safe.” These were the words Ava heard in the moment Hanni arose in the World to Come.

When the day came that all forged documents were ready for travel, Lea and Ava were to meet up with Ettie and her sister Marta to board the night train to Paris. Little did they know that Paris was fast becoming no longer safe. And once they arrived in France we’ll meet new characters who play integral parts to this story. The story will have us both cheering and aching for these heroic and complex characters with different desires, yet all sharing the same goal -survival.

This story isn’t necessarily focused on the prisoners of war in concentration camps, but of the human spirit and efforts to survive facing those atrocities by those who’d do anything in their power to keep from becoming one of the deported, and their plight to survive through hiding, resisting and mysticism, all while remembering with an ache living in their hearts for those they left behind and ultimately, those left to parish. This is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read it, and the kind of book I will most definitely be reading again. I am now a huge Hoffman fan! Kleenex nearby #recommended.

 

Copyright
© D.G. Kaye and DGKayewriter.com, 2014 – 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to D.G. Kaye

 

 

 

Sunday Movie Review – The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Welcome to my Sunday Book Review. Once again I’m still engrossed in a current longer read so I’m sharing a movie review today for Markus Zusak’s #1NYT Best Seller – The Book Thief. The movie was so well done, I can only imagine how much more engrossing this book is to read.

 

 

 

Blurb:

The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

When Death has a story to tell, you listen.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

“The kind of book that can be life-changing.” —The New York Times

“Deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.” —USA Today

 

My 5 Star Review:

Tenderness among war.

The story opens with narration from the grim reaper himself – death. The movie begins with young Liesel Meminger and her brother being brought by their mother on a train to a small town outside of Munich, fleeing persecution for their now dead father’s crime of being accused of being a communist. The mother, fearing for hers and her children’s lives is traveling with her children to give them up for adoption to spare their lives. The brother dies of an unmentioned illness while on the train, and the narrator, death, continues to tell the story of the pitstop LIesel and her mother made to a shallow grave near the train station where her brother’s body was buried. As the grave digger walks away, a book drops out of his pocket to the ground – The Grave Diggers Handbook, which Liesel sneakingly picks up and puts in her pocket.We are now in the thick of Liesel’s newly adopted life by a poor, childless German couple, Rosa and Hans Hubermann.

Liesel warms up quickly to her new compassionate step-father, and endures a bit of tough love, harsh treatment from her new mother. It is a time of the human condition when children too become part of and aware of the landscape in early 1940s Germany with severe rationing, limited access to food, frequent roundups of neighborhood Jews, and many basic freedoms, and many fearful nights hiding out in bomb shelters.

Liesel is taught how to read by her new father Hans, who discovers Liesel struggling to read a hidden book she keeps under wraps – The Grave Diggers Handbook, the only book she ever had. And once she learns how to read, her appetite for reading more books only grows. Later in the story, a young Jewish man, Jacob, is brought in the basement to live in hiding, as a debt owed by Hans to Jacob’s father for once saving his own life while fighting in WWI. Jacob continues to teach young Liesel more about books, reading, and ignites her passion to write her own book when he gifts her an empty book – one he had in his possession written by Hitler himself that he painstakingly took the time to paint every page over in white paint to both cover the horrors off the pages and to offer a clean writing slate for Liesel.

LIesel becomes best friends with her neighbor Rudy Steiner. They spend a lot of time together, and Liesel must be very careful not to let on that Jacob is living in hiding in her basement. One day, Liesel and Rudy were outside when they caught sight of a Nazi book burning event while inside the center of town. They watched as a mountain of books were lit aflame, and once the fire began to smoulder, the onlooking crowd dissipates. Liesel see this as her only chance to save one book. She runs to the sizzling book pile and grabs one nicely charred, but still readable, hides it under her coat and runs home with it. All the while the mayor’s wife Ilsa Herman is watching her from inside her parked limo on the dark, dingy street.

Rosa Hubermann does laundry for the mayor’s wife for extra income. One day Liesel delivers her cleaned laundry, and Ilsa invites her into her library to look at her book collection. Liesel is in awe, and this library becomes a place where Liesel occasionally ‘breaks into’ to snatch a book to read. Liesel later becomes ‘the reader’ at the many neighborhood gatherings in the bomb shelter to shield from the air raids, keeping the people engrossed in her storytelling instead of focusing on their fears.

I am not going to go into spoilers of this beautiful, yet, heart wrenching story, but suffice it to say, Jacob eventually leaves from hiding on his own volition because he feels he can longer risk the lives of his saviors, and as in most war stories, there are a lot of fears, violence and loss of life – and the bombs continue to fall, taking more away from Liesel’s young life.

This story is a most beautiful telling about a horrendous time of the world. Despite the subject matter, Zusak manages to get in, not only the horrors about war, but focuses his story on how that war affected people and their everyday lives, instead of taking us directly into the action of horrifics of the actual prisoners of the holocaust.

Last poignant line by the narrator: “I am haunted by humans.”

 

Copyright
© D.G. Kaye and DGKayewriter.com, 2014 – 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to D.G. Kaye

 

 

Sunday Book Review – Touching the Wire by Rebecca Bryn

This week’s Sunday Book Review is on Rebecca Bryn’s riveting read – Touching The Wire. One of my favorite genres to read in is historical fiction – mainly WWII era and the Holocaust. I’ve read many wonderful books in this genre, but none like this one that takes an interesting approach to the story by including a mystery throughout the book, keeping us glued till the very end of the book.

 

 

Blurb:

“He had no way to tell her he had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope.”

A fictional tale of love and darkness in Auschwitz-Birkenhau, and of every man and woman who bore the Auschwitz tattoo, or were interred in Nazi death camps throughout WW2, this novel is inspired by real events. It is a tribute to the courage of victims of Nazi war crime during the Holocaust, sadly an inescapable part of Jewish history. The horror of holocaust experiments carried out under the auspices of war and Hitler’s obsession with a master race are hard to understand, impossible to condone, and difficult to imagine forgiving. The human spirit that can find love in such a place must be rare indeed, but a person in dire circumstances will grab at a kindness where it is offered. Such is the premise of this story, and it asks the question, could you forgive? Part One transitions between 1944/45 and the 1970s and continues in Part Two in the present day.

 

Part One – In the Shadow of the Wolf

In a death camp hospital in 1940’s Poland, a young doctor and nurse struggle to save lives and relieve the suffering of their women patients. As their relationship blossoms, amid the death and deprivation, they join the camp resistance and, despite the danger of betrayal, he steals damning evidence of war-crimes. Afraid of repercussions, and for the sake of his post-war family, he hides the evidence but hard truths and terrible choices haunt him, as does an unkept promise to his lost love.

 

Part Two – Though the Heavens should Fall

In present-day England, his granddaughter seeks to answer the questions posed by her grandfather’s enigmatic carving. Her own relationship in tatters, she meets a modern historian who, intrigued by the carving, agrees to help her discover its purpose. As her grandfather’s past seeps into the present, and more carvings are discovered, she betrays the man she loves and is forced to confront her own guilt in order to contemplate forgiving the unforgivable and keep her grandfather’s promise.
How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust? Estimates vary around the 6 million mark, a number that is hard to imagine. 100 coachloads a day was how one person quantified it. A Holocaust thriller.

 

Excerpt:

“A young woman bent to retrieve her possessions. An SS officer strode past. ‘Leave. Luggage afterwards.’
She stood wide-eyed like a startled deer, one arm cradling a baby. Beside her an elderly woman clutched a battered suitcase. The girl’s eyes darted from soldier to painted signboard and back. ‘What are we doing here, grandmother? Why have they brought us here?’

The wind teased at her cheerful red shawl, revealing and lifting long black hair. She straightened and attempted a smile. ‘It’ll be all right, Grandmother. God has protected us on our journey.’
Voices rasped, whips cracked, dogs barked… An SS officer pushed towards a woman of about fifty. ‘How old?’ She didn’t respond so the officer shouted.

He edged closer. As a doctor he held a privileged position, but he’d also discovered he had a gift for languages. He translated the German to stilted Hungarian, adding quietly. ‘Say you’re under forty-five. Say you are well. Stand here with the younger women.’ He moved from woman to woman, intercepting those he could. ‘Say you are well. Say your daughter is sixteen. Say you can work or have a skill. Say you aren’t pregnant.’

Miriam’s eyes glistened. ‘May He rescue us from every foe.’ She touched her grandmother’s cheek, a gentle lingering movement, and placed a tender kiss on her baby’s forehead. She moved to stand where he pointed.

Miriam’s eyes met his. He had no way to tell her had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope. ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’ ”

 

My 5 Star Review: Hard to Put Down this Book

“It was forbidden to approach the fence, forbidden to shout out to husbands, wives and loves. It was forbidden to love.” This poignant sentence stood out to me in the gripping story of horrors of the Holocaust as told by a tortured soul – Walt, a.k.a. Chuck Blundell through the present and flashbacks of the past. This story is brilliantly told in two parts as Walt’s story haunts him the rest of his life, first, living through the horrors of the Holocaust then bringing us into the present as the memories continue to distract his life.

Walt is now 72 living with his loving wife, daughter and two granddaughters. His fight to survive and save as many as he could during his capture, only to ‘supposedly’ take his own life decades later, consumed with nightmares and horrific heartbreaking memories from his time in Auschwitz-Birkenhau.  The flashbacks were too real and time didn’t heal. Walt kept notes in a diary, risking his life in doing so as he hid them from the SS, knowing that he must one day share with the world, deciding to put those grimoires in time capsules only to be opened in 99 years.

In part two, Walt’s family who knew nothing about his past life as a Polish prisoner or the woman ‘Miriam’ who he fought to save and fell in love with, discover his secrets, and the story of Walt’s life unfolds, spurring the curiosity of one of his granddaughters to investigate the mysteries beginning with the carvings Walt created throughout his life, initiating the search for who was Walt really, and who was this woman Miriam whom Walt’s present day family had never known about.

This book was chilling and often difficult to read with the explicit descriptions of the horrors and tortures that went on in the concentration camp, but the storyline was hauntingly compelling and addictive and brilliantly written.

Although the story was written in fiction, the facts and some of the characters were taken from history. If you enjoy reading stories about humanity combined with a great mystery, you will definitely want to read this book. I look forward to reading more from this talented author, Rebecca Bryn.