The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman #Review

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman #ReviewThe Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Berkley on September 6, 2011
Pages: 353
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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four-half-stars      three-flames

Any story set against the backdrop of the Jews in WWII Europe is going to grip my emotions and I thought I was ready for it.  However, this love story of a couple parted at the outset of the war and not meeting again until sixty years later left me in tears.  I’m still processing.

This is a romance, but it isn’t one that the average romance reader would consider a romance.  I read an interview the author did on this book and she explains that there are many types of love and romance in this book.  I think that is probably the best way to look at it.  There is family love, first love, companion love, and second love.  The three romances in the book are all so different and precious in their own ways and no less real and true than the first.  But no, this cannot be approached like the typical historical romance or it won’t suit the reader.

I was recently introduced to the term ‘frame’ when it came to the sort of story that is begun with the ending so to speak.  In this case, the present day Josef and Lenska meet in a startling moment when they are at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  Then the story dives back into the past alternating between Lenska telling of her growing up years in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the spring love between her and Josef set against the ominous clouds of the Third Reich coming into power in Germany.  The story would switch to Josef’s memories of the more recent past of his life in America before going back to Lenska’s story.  Their tale of finding love, a heartbreaking choice, the horrific time of work and concentration camps, second marriages, life moving on, and then life coming full circle was painted with a rich brush of color and emotion.

The historical background is that of war torn Europe and the plight of the Jews through this story.  But the author brings out a particular aspect of Jewish concentration camp life that was new to me.  I’ve seen the Holocaust art work, but it was in isolation with no human story attached.  This book took on the story of the artists and architects who lived at Terezin Ghetto and then Auschwitz- how they created not just visual art, but the music that helped them all feel like they were alive even while knowing that death was right behind them.  Lenska was one of the artists.

The book also depicts the torpedoing of passenger ships like the one Josef and his family was on, the agony of waiting to see if a loved one can be found through the Red Cross or names mistakenly placed on lists of the dead from huge tragedies.  There was no internet and information gathered was sketchy during this time and so lives were affected.

So many layers of tragedy and survival to this story.

Most people will sympathize most with Lenska’s story since she is the one who remained behind in Europe with her family and endured so much hardship.  And I did.  But I also sorrowed over Josef’s life, too.  He made it out, but he paid a heavy price.  Should he have stayed with his wife?  Should he have forced her to leave her family?  There were only so many passports.  It was an awful decision made by Jews and other refugees all over Europe.  I know that I don’t condemn him and I don’t know what I would have chosen in his shoes.  Lenska made a choice, too.  I don’t condemn or praise her either.  I think that is why this book will stick with me for a while- the terrible choice and no real easy answer.

This book was amazing all the way to the end.

Spoiler title

But that said, I am glad I read it.  The story has many real life occurrences in it including the heart of the story of two elderly grandparents meeting at their grandchildren’s wedding and discovering a lost spouse.  Those who want a poignant and heartwrenching story that isn’t the hearts and flowers romantic happily ever after should consider this one.

Challenges Met:

Romance Roundabout #122 HR
New to Me #53 author
Mt. TBR #55
Literary Pickers #96 older couple romance
Books N Tunes #14 Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • That definitely sound different. Thanks for the great review.

    • It was. I knew it would be bittersweet b/c of being about the Holocaust, but the way it was written was different. And the author said that two people met 60 years later was the real part that she based her story on.

  • I am digging the backdrop of this story, very different indeed and adding real life events too…love it! great review!

    • Yes, that was pretty amazing to know the premise is based on real stuff. I need to read these types once in a while to keep connected with the past.

  • At least no one is dead at the beginning, those frame makes me sad

    • Oh yeah, I’ve read a few of those in straight historical fiction and that just puts a cloud on the whole story.

  • It sounds like an original romances with the different types of love. And I can imagine a book set at that time period is hard to read. We got a lot of classes about world war 2 during school, as it involved the Netherlands and thus is considered an important part of history. It’s so heartbreaking what happened with all the Jews. I am not sure if I could read a book about that.

    I have read only few books with a frame as far as I can remember. I can think of two series that are told as if they are told from the future after everything happened, but mostly that’s more the writing style than an actual frame where it starts at the end.

    It sounds like a well written, emotional read. And how the characters in this books both have to make some difficult choices, that sounds like a difficult position for them to be in. And I think there really is no right or wrong choice in such a situation, just survival and trying to do what you think is best. Great review!

    • Oh, I can only imagine how much harder this would be for those who live on the grounds of the war would feel reading this one and other war stories.

      The frame stories aren’t my favorites b/c you get the ending before going back to the beginning and seeing how it all got there and already know the end. But with this sort of sadder, heartbreaking story, it was nice to know that whatever happened, they both survived and find each other.

      The difficult choices are what really struck me about this story even more than the romance or the family story lines. I saw some scathing reviews that didn’t like the choices these two made, but it was a different time and either way, there wasn’t a choice that led to complete happiness. Very hard!

  • This sounds so emotional! God, I’m already an emotional mess, so I may need to wait on reading this one.

    • Oh, I do get that. And yes, this would not be one when you’re already torn up with emotions.

  • I actually like “Frame” stories, and have read several. This time period is one of my favorites..so this I must read!!

    • This story was perfect for a frame story especially as the reader gets deep in and sorrows over what is happening b/c the end is known which is the bright part.
      Yes, I love this time period, too. Every day people were heroes through all the hardships. Hope you like it!

  • Damn that one sounds like it would leave me gutted. You hear about these in real life every once in a while and they always make me so sad over all those years lost.

    • Oh yeah, I was crying so hard at times I couldn’t see the page and other times it went beyond tears and I had to close the book and get some fresh air.

      The realization that the key components of the story like their sixty year separation and sudden encounter were real made it all the more amazing.