Published by Gallery Books on July 21, 2020
Genres: Historical Fiction, WW II
Tropes: War Stories
Buy on Amazon, Buy on Audible
Narrator: Madeleine Maby
Length: 10 hrs and 50 mins
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.
THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES
by Kristin Harmel
Word War II is without a doubt one of the darkest times of mankind and war stories set in that era are often unsettling because they force us to take a hard look at our heritage and our own position towards race and racism. THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES showcases how harrowing times and great adversity can bring out the best and the worst in people, it’s about finding hope in places you didn’t even know to look for it and joy and light in the darkest hours.
It is against the backdrop of a France deeply involved in World War II that bookish Eva, a young Jewish woman, who was raised sheltered is forced to grow up quickly when her father is being deported by the Nazis. On the run with her devastated mother and on the way to neutral Switzerland she finds a modicum of safety in a small town south of Paris. Eva’s artistic talent stirs the interest of the local resistance. Her own need for documents that pass Nazi scrutiny draws her into a life of secrecy and danger and soon she’s one of the most prolific forgers in France.
“I was never a hero. I was just a young woman trying to do the right thing. .”
I loved Eva, despite the atrocities happening right in front of her nose she fought courageously, looked death in the eye and did whatever she could to help save lives. She had so much honor and gentleness about her and I think that’s what Remy, a man who she comes to first trust and then love, drew to her. Torn between her belief and care for her mother on one side and her love for a Catholic man and loyalty to the people she has come to care about Eva has to make some tough decisions, and life itself is at stake, especially when you don’t know who you can trust.
Remy’s affable and charming personality made him a favorite right from the start. There was a distinct sense of goodness and warmth that radiated off the pages. I had no idea how the author would manage not to break my heart completely but she totally accomplished that feat.
I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.
I wanted to give this story a full five stars so bad, the story itself would have deserved it but there is this one niggle I have. Eva’s mother is a real piece of work, blaming her daughter for her husband’s deportation, being mean and lashing out. And I so, so wished Eva would have stood up for herself, instead she tried to placate her mother and many times it felt like Eva was the parent calming a whiny toddler throwing a temper tantrum. I could see why she was that way with her mother, still…She was such a strong heroine in every regard but not when it came to her mother.
The book jumps between wartime and 2005 and while we know the significance of The Book of Lost Names pretty much from the start, we learn so much more about it and why it is even more important to Eva than we thought.
The last 30% are a quick-moving, action-filled and emotional tour de force that left me a little breathless, as if I had lived through Eva and Remy’s big finale. Riding on an emotional roller coaster that drags you through hope, love, trust, friendship, humanity and secrets, heartbreak and betrayal this story is a stark reminder that we aren’t done processing and learning from this dark spot in our history by a long shot. It made me feel uncomfortable and sad and tear up, but also smile. I loved THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES with all my heart.
“Sir,” I reply, “we are only responsible for the things we do—or fail to do—ourselves. You owe me no apology.”