Wednesday, March 20, 2013

8 Heart Review: The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

The Lost Wife
Alyson Richman

Page Count: 334

Release Date: 6 September 2011
Publisher: Berkley Books (Penguin Group)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

A rapturous new novel of first love in a time of war

During the last moments of calm in prewar Prague, Lenka, a young art student, and Josef, who is studying medicine, fall in love. WIth the promise of a better future, they marry—only to have their dreams shattered by the imminent Nazi invasion. Like so many others, they are torn apart by the currents of war.

Now a successful obstetrician in America, Josef has never forgotten the wife he believes died in the war. But in the Nazi ghetto of Terezín, Lenka survived, relying on her skills as an artist and the memories of her hustand she would never see again. Then, decades later and thousands of miles away, an unexpected encounter in New York leads to an inescapable glance of recognition, and the realization that providence has given Lenka and Josef one more chance.

From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the occupation to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit, and our capacity to remember.

Review


The Lost Wife is lush with historical detail but doesn't read historical; it reads like the stories your mother used to tell you at bedtime, or a frail, time-worn journal you serendipitously come across in the attic. Embarking on the childhood and golden years of Lenka, the ethereal, maternal beauty—in Prague in all its glamor, 1934—this Holocaust novel evokes both the rapturous European lifestyle before the Third Reich, and the horrific and chilling concentration camps of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and Germany during World War II.

A tragic parting of lovers sets the desolate, desperate tone in Lenka and Joseph's individual tales as they each relearn to live during the war; Joseph, struggling to survive without Lenka, and Lenka, struggling just to survive. The book is composed of a beautiful back-and-forth exchange of lives that continued in the aftermath of this separation: the suffering, the dullness, the grayness, the hunger, the emptying. The Lost Wife isn't so much about romance, as it is about love—about lovers who once went wholly, completely right—that withstands the test of time and the brutality that is life.

Lenka is strong and a stubborn character, but I felt way too detached from her. She is the embodiment of how powerful the bonds of blood are, and very admirable in values, but I just couldn't connect with her or her choices. Through her eyes, readers glimpse at the injustices of Terezín and the horrors of Auschwitz, the compassion of a wife, and the duty of a daughter. Joseph is more relatable, but I couldn't stand his one-track mind. He's always loved Lenka, I understand, but how can a human be as static as to say he never loved anyone after her—not even his second wife? Human minds are more complex and open than that, in my opinion; I wish his life after Lenka had been portrayed more colorfully because that would have mystified—totally eternalized—their reunion.

This reunion is what magically brings these interwoven stories full circle. The glimpse of a smooth, white neck. The recollection of those strong, sturdy hands. The familiar glint in the eye. That are all it take for the two lovers to recognize each other—sixty years and several lifetimes after being wrenched apart.

Tastefully and delicately crafted with Alyson Richman's golden words and brimming with historical facets of the prevalent anti-Semitism throughout WWII-era Europe that oughtn't be remembered, but deserves to be exposed, The Lost Wife relays so much significance. Among the penetrating insights, include the sanctuary and solace of art, and of course, music; the danger of propaganda and how even a motherland will go to far lengths to deceive; and the ultimate triumph of a survivor: their story.

Pros


Real, raw characters // Lyrical, moving prose // Gorgeous and scary depiction of life during wartime // At times graphic, at others, tender—both frightening and redolent // Conveys the beauty of memory // Heartwarming true love // Reunion aspect is astonishing // Memories are sensual, lethargic, and dreamy

Cons


Lenka and Joseph are each a bit off... I couldn't sympathize with them completely

Love


Richman's voice is just stunning... 
Is this what a kiss from the man you love feels like? All fire and heat. The color purple. Indigo. The blue red in our veins before it meets the air.
If those we love visit us when we dream, those who torment us almost always visit us when we're still awake.
... in order to survive the foreign world, I had to teach myself that love was very much like a painting. The negative space between people was just as important as the positive space we occupy. The air between our resting bodies, and the breath in between our conversations, were all like the white of the canvas, and the rest of our relationship—the laughter and the memories—were the brushstrokes applied over time.

Verdict


Eloquent in tone and stirring in message, The Lost Wife is a Holocaust novel with sentiments on family, love, and survival. Sophie's Choice meets Atonement in Richman's exquisite story about impossible lovers—the most perfect of lovers. It is at once haunting and elegant, symbolic and graceful, and in the end, is the kind of book that'll make your heart clench and your breath shudder Americanflag

8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended (x)