Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Lost Wife

The Lost Wife. Alyson Richman. 2011. Penguin. 352 pages.

New York City
2000
He dressed deliberately for the occasion, his suit pressed and his shoes shined. While shaving, he turned each cheek carefully to the mirror to ensure he hadn't missed a single whisker. 

The Lost Wife, at least at first glance, does not appear to be your traditional Holocaust novel. True, both hero and heroine are Jewish. True, over half of the novel is about what happened to them as a result of the Nazis invading their country and bringing the war all too close to home. But the way this story is told sets it a bit apart. For one, the framework of the story is NOT chronological. It begins and ends on the very same day, it begins with a reunion decades in the making. It begins with the grandfather of the groom meeting the grandmother of the bride and realizing their shared past. Their tragically-brief past.

Lenka, the heroine, perhaps has the greater task. Her narrative focuses on the past, for the most part. From her childhood to her teen years to her relationship with a young man, Josef. It covers the happy years, the anxious years, the joyful moments, the heartbreaking moments. Her time with Josef does seem brief--their marriage consisting of mere weeks when it was meant to last a lifetime. But war has a way of wrecking things.

Josef, the hero, balances out Lenka's story. His role in the novel is to relate to readers the post-war present. The focus is on his life in America. The war has cost him much, much, much more than just a wife. And so he does have to find a way to go on, and that includes marrying someone (another broken person forever changed and haunted by war, by what might have been, what should have been) and having a family. We catch glimpses of his home life through the decades. We see him as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend. He has never forgotten Lenka. Never.

Though the novel does jump around in time, I didn't find it confusing. I cared about both stories, though, I perhaps cared about hers a bit more. Both Josef and Lenka endured losses--great losses--and both witnessed things that were traumatic, I think her story is more compelling because of the duration. We see Lenka in two concentration camps. And we endure with Lenka. Or at least that is how it felt to me.

The way this story is told does take a good bit of suspense out of it, but I didn't mind because to me it was all about the journey. 

Read The Lost Wife
  • If you want to read an amazing, heartbreaking-yet-hopeful love story
  • If you are interested in reading about the Holocaust
  • If you are interested in Terezin and Auschwitz 
  • If you want a little art appreciation; this one has a definite art theme to it.
  • If you're looking for a compelling read that's almost impossible to put down

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

7 comments:

Anna said...

I loved this book! It was so heartbreaking, but I was glad it started at the end so there was some hope amid all the tears.

Unknown said...

This sounds so amazing! Definitely want to read it!

Christina T said...

I'm glad you liked this book too. I think it helped that we know going into it that both characters survive their ordeal somehow and are reunited. I liked that the author included real historical figures too. I didn't know much about the Terezin ghetto before reading this book. Great review!

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Jake and Danica said...

I sobbed through almost the whole story. My only complaint was that they didn't hug in the end; they held hands...I wish they would have hugged. All I know is when my husband got home, I just held him for a really long time.