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.
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.
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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