Sunday, September 28, 2014

423 (2014 #51). The Lost Wife

by Alyson Richman

Beautiful book about a couple separated by the Nazi occupation of Prague.  A young Josef and Lenka marry just before he and his family of origin escape.  They are able to get exit papers for Lenka, but not for her parents and sister, so Lenka refuses to go, deciding to wait until Josef can send for them all.

Of course, that doesn't happen.  Josef and his family head for America on the SS Athenia.  The ship is torpedoed and they are reported as dead - but Josef survives.  Shortly afterward, Lenka and her family are shipped to Terazin's "model" concentration camp.  A strength of the novel is author Alyson Richman's descriptions of life there, incorporating real people such as artist and art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

Finally, in November 1944, Lenka's mother is chosen to be transported east, and once again, the family decides to stick together.  They are all sent to Auschwitz.  Ultimately only Lenka survives.

Josef's letters to Lenka are returned, so each think the other is dead, and they marry other people; Lenka an American soldier.  They meet once again at the wedding of their grandchildren.  This isn't a spoiler, as it happens at the beginning of the book.  The rest of the story is told in the alternating voices of Lenka and Josef, in the past and in the present (2000).  The novel winds up at the present-day wedding.

In an afterword, author Alyson Richman said she overheard a story about a bride's grandmother and groom's grandfather meeting at a wedding and realizing they'd been married before the war.  Richman also said in an interview that she made Lenka an art student " so I could weave in my historical research about various artists who had survived Terezin and Auschwitz by using their artistic skills."

While I didn't quite buy the romance between Josef and Lenka and its long life (61 years!), I did enjoy the historical aspects of this novel, and would definitely read some of Richman's other books.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.]

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