The Book of Lost Names
The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel
Published by: Gallery Books
Publish Date: 2020
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, WW2, Romance
HB&W Rating: 4
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Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.
The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?
As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.
An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
I really liked this book, so much so that I finished it in two days. I had been putting it off for a while, even though I had heard great things about it. Part of it was that this topic (WW2) is already pretty heavily covered and I’ve read a LOT of WW2 lit, part of it was that I knew it was going to be a hard emotional read, and lastly, with the rush of the last three months, I just haven’t been in the right frame of mind for a deep read. But with the passing of the holidays, the lightening of my schedule, and a couple days spent on the heat pad for my back, the timing was finally right. I also realized that this book was written by the same author that wrote The Forest of Vanishing Stars, which I read last year and was one of the handful of books I rated 5 stars. When I saw that, it was just another sign that this book was ready to be read.
I really liked the idea of a female forger saving the identities of the Jewish children too young to remember their origins. It was beautifully written and evoked many emotions while I was reading it. There is a lot of wisdom imparted in these pages while reading about a brave woman doing what she believed to be right even against the strong opposition of her mother. I will say that I didn’t quite understand the sentiment behind Eva’s mother’s rantings, but I do like that she was treated compassionately by the side characters.
While this story is told from a Jewish woman’s perspective living in hiding in France during German occupation and there are some tense scenes, I didn’t quite get the same feeling of danger from this particular story so much as from prior knowledge of this time. By that I mean that if I knew absolutely nothing about WW2, I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated the danger she was in simply by reading this book. It didn’t transport me the way TFOVS did. That said, it was still a well-drawn portrayal of what her life in hiding was like as a member of the Resistance.
I loved the romance in this story as a way to show that you can’t judge a person by their religion but should instead get to know the person themself. It showed that light can be found even in the darkest of times and how it can mean that much more because of those dark times. I loved the relationship that Eva had with Pere Clement and the fondness she found for the sad man with the kind eyes hanging on the cross, even though she never veered from her Jewish beliefs. Her relationships with the people in the small town really showed an ability to be open and kind and empathetic to those who are different than herself. And isn’t that one of the biggest takeaways from WW2?
While this book was pretty predictable and didn’t quite have the same magic as TFOVS (quite literally since that one has a touch of magical realism), I still found it to be an incredibly moving story and if you enjoy WW2 lit like Kate Quinn, I think you’ll like this.
Until next time,
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