Wednesday, April 17, 2013

THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman

Josef and Lenka, a Czech married couple separated by the Holocaust, reunite many years later in the U.S. at their grandchildren's wedding.  I thought it unusual that the author would reveal this outcome at the beginning, but as I read, I found it heartening to know that they would find each other again eventually.  The bulk of the novel is the story of how they survived but remarried different people, each thinking that the other had died.  Both stories are tragic.  Lenka's story, however, frustrated me, because twice she imperils herself in order to stay with her parents and sister, much to the dismay of her father, who desperately wants at least one of his daughters to survive.  Her stubbornness struck me as foolish, rather than courageous.  The unfortunate truth, though, is that the Jews could not imagine that extermination was Hitler's ultimate goal.  Nothing could have prepared Lenka and her family for this revelation.  They spend several years in a horrific work camp, Terezin, but, unbeknownst to them, their situation could be worse, as it would be in Auschwitz, for example.  Lenka's art school background lands her a job with the drafting group at Terezin, where a few artists are sneaking drawings of the camp's conditions to friends on the outside.  When one of these drawings appears in a Swiss newspaper, Nazi retaliation cannot be far behind.  Was the artists' subterfuge worth the risk?  Probably not, but hope is a powerful aid to survival, and this small successful maneuver gives them hope, and perhaps a sense that they are not totally powerless.

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