Rarely do books make me cry. I am moved by a story, I can be an emotional wreck about characters and plot…I can have a book enter my dreams in ways that are dark and very real.  Movies make me cry, commercials can make me tear up, but not so much with books. That is kind of surprising considering the amount of dramatic books that I read and so many of them are about war. I don’t really seek these historical novels out, they seem to find ME.

I recently read THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman, an author I had not read before. And yes, about half way through this book, I cried real tears.  When you have that kind of connection with a story, there are many reasons why you are moved. Is it the great writing? Are you having a sensitive day? Or is it the subject matter?  For me, it could be all three.

THE LOST WIFE is a novel about the holocaust but with a twist. A man is at his grandson’s wedding and he sees a woman that seems familiar. At first, she does not recognize him. He asks if he can see her arm, and her sleeve is rolled up, and there are numbers from the war. He tells her “you were my wife.”

In pre-war Prague, two young people fall in love. Lenka and Josef are young and preparing for their lives to change because of the war. After getting married, their families have different ways of getting out of Prague, as they know their time is limited in the city that they love. Lenka and Josef are separated and make plans to meet, once their papers are in order, in England. But Lenka and her family are taken to the camp, Terezin. Lenka believes that Josef has died and she is now only focused on surviving. In Prague, she had been studying art and now has been put to work making little paintings for the Nazis. She meets fellow artists and discovers that the others are using their skills to let the outside world know about this camp. Lenka also sees what art can do for the children in the camp, and so she sneaks out bits of paper, charcoal and paint for the children.

Lenka survives by taking care of her parents and sister and creating art. She believes that this is the worst it will get, but suddenly she and her family are transported to Auschwitz. Josef, meanwhile, has come to America and tries for years to find Lenka. But after the war, he has married and has a family. Both Josef and Lenka believed each other had died in the war, and they sadly have moved on with their lives. Josef has never forgotten his first wife, and he has kept all the returned letters that he had sent Lenka.

This novel stands out because it says so much about the individual spirit, about the varieties of love and how art can impact lives in meaningful ways. And that there is power in creativity. You can make a difference with some paper and pencil. Richman has created characters that grow and learn, that love with all their beings and it still is not enough. These are people who passionately live because of the death they have seen. The story is so beautifully written, and as much as it is a sad story with a fabulous happy ending, it is also a book filled with hope. This is a story that you will not forget. There are so many images that stay with you and I try to focus on the positive: small children drawing a mural in Terezin with the stolen colors. That mural actually existed, and it is what the children did to survive. The power of art.

And now for something different:  a little worn out by serious and sad novels? Here is  a new book that is fun and also well done: GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES by Jennifer Close. 


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