Sometimes art and love is all we have left – “The Lost Wife” by Alyson Richman

January 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm 6 comments

“The Lost Wife” by Alyson Richman, Published in 2011

I thought this book was beautiful and tragic and amazing. I apologize in advance for the length of this review.

At its heart this is a love story between Lenka and Joseph. Joseph is a medical student and Lenka is an art student. Both live in Prague, meet and fall madly in love right before WWII begins. They marry but as Jews, while their nation and Prague surrenders without a fight to the Nazis, they find themselves facing  their most difficult decision.  Joseph can only secure visas to England for himself and his family, including his new wife Lenka.  Lenka refuses to leave without first securing safe passage for her parents and sister.  And so the newlyweds split, for what they believe to be a temporary period. Joseph is to travel to England and try to get visas for Lenka’s family. Lenka decides to stay with her family and wait.  While waiting, news reaches Lenka that Joseph and his family drowned while on a boat headed for America.

Meanwhile, the Nazis invaded Prague and began rounding up the Jews taking them to the Terezin ghetto, including Lenka and her family.  In Terezin everyone is assigned a job. Lenkin is initially relegated to the art department, required to make postcards and greeting cards for the SS to send to friends and loved ones.  She is eventually reassigned to the Technical Drafting department when she finds out that a part from being forced to design new railway and transportation systems for the SS, Lenka’s fellow artists are also documenting the horrors of Terezin.  They are drawing the hunger and the death, the children in rags and the ravaged faces of the elderly.  And then they are slipping these drawings to the outside world.

The inmates of Terezin also use art to stay hopeful and alive. Lenka’s mother teaches art to the children of the ghetto, they paint and perform plays.  The adult artists find a drive to create art that seems to be fueled merely by their commitment to survive.I have to say this is where Richman does her best work.  She does an astonishing job of weaving these true stories of Terezin with her fictional charaters.

Perhaps most heart wrenching to me was the story of the great Prague composer who gathered singers to perform a Requiem. It was a bold move but they performed, in spite of their fear, for their fellow Jews who had died.  The Nazis “enjoyed” the performance but then the next day sent all of the singers on the death transport to a concentration camp. The composer was left in Terezin.  He assembled a second troupe of singers. Again, it was attended by their guards.  The next day all the singers were sent to a concentration camp. And yet, the composer assembled more singers and, even though they knew it would mean imminent death, they still sang.

While Lenka tries to survive in Terezin, Joseph has actually made it safely to America though the rest of his family did perish on the ship.  He is heartsick when all of his letters from Lenka are returned to him.  Lenka and her family are eventually transported to Auschwitz and by the time the war has ended Lenka is the only one from her family who has survived.   Joseph tries to find her for six years after the war, eventually finding out that she was in Aushwitz, where very few lived.  I will leave the rest for you to read.

This is a love story.  But I oversimplified it when I said it was a love story between Joseph and Lenka. It is really a love story about the love of country, the love of family, the love of  art, and the strength of people in the face of extreme evil to make beauty.  I think that is truly what art and love can be – the expression of the strength of our spirit even at our darkest moments.

The Nazis transported approximately 140,000 people to Terezin.  Only 22,000 of those originally deported to Terezin survived.  6,000 drawings from the Terezin prisoners survived and many are now on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

English: Stone marking the ashes of 15,000 vic...

Image via Wikipedia

Please check out these other reviews:

Review: The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman – Diary of an Eccentric

Review of “The Lost Wife” by Alyson Richman – Rhapsody in Books

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman – Maurice on Books

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Entry filed under: January 2012 reads. Tags: , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. janewalters  |  January 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Good blog, you’ve made me want to read this one.

    Reply
    • 2. Emily C  |  February 3, 2012 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you. Please let me know what you think about it when you read it.

      Reply
  • 3. Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)  |  February 1, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Your review is wonderful and really captures the beauty of the book. Thanks for linking to my review! I’ve added your link to War Through the Generations.

    Reply
    • 4. Emily C  |  February 3, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Thank you very much. I thought your review was great as well (and thank you for adding the link). This book was a nice surprise.

      Reply
  • 5. Diane  |  February 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I must add this book to my list! Thanks for the great review!

    Reply
  • […] surprised by novels that really added to my understanding of this period of history. The first was “The Lost Wife” and the second was this […]

    Reply

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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