Monday, November 19, 2012
Published September 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: purchased for reading with the Omaha Bookworms
In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers. Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance.
Because, wow, that summary really doesn't give the least glimpse into what this book is about. It's true that Joseph and Lenka are reunited decades after they are separated but the book both opens and closes with the two of them recognizing each other and the improbable wedding of their grandchildren but there is little more than that between them, perhaps twenty pages total.
In between those two scenes, we meet Joseph and Lenka, children of well-to-do Jewish families in pre-WWII Prague who have never wanted for anything. The pair meet through his sister who is her best friend and fall in love without anyone in their families knowing. When the Nazis begin moving into Czechoslovakia, Joseph's family makes plans to leave. Knowing that the only way to save Lenka is to marry her and take her with him as part of the family, Joseph asks Lenka to marry him. She believes that he will be able to arrange safe passage for her entire family. When she finds out on the day after their marriage that he can't, she makes the agonizing decision to stay behind with her family.
Through dual narratives, Richman moves back and forth in time following both Joseph and Lenka as he adjusts to life alone in the United States and she lives through Terazin, one of the Jewish ghettos established by the Nazis, and Auschwitz both of them believing that the other has died.
I can't say that I cared much for the story of Lenka and Joseph; I found it to be a little contrived and melodramatic. But I very much appreciated the opportunity to learn about the art of Terezin and, along with that, the incredible capacity of mankind to fight back in any way they can. Unfortunately, none of the other Bookworms had read the book so I wasn't even able to discuss this with them.
Posted by Lisa at 1:30 AM