Lenka, an aspiring artist, and Josef, a medical student, met in Prague on the eve of WWII. Both young people were Jewish; despite the looming threat from Hitler and the Nazis, they quickly fell in love and decided to get married. Lenka hoped that the marriage would not only be a happy one, but would provide a way out of the country for her parents and younger sister.
As was the case with many families at the time, the newlyweds were separated mere days after their hasty marriage ceremony. Lenka believed that Josef perished onboard a ship bound for the United States, and Josef received the news that Lenka was sent to a gas chamber upon her arrival in Auschwitz.
Unbeknownst to each other, both Lenka and Josef survived, married other people and re-built their lives. Well into their eighties, they attend a rehearsal dinner for their grandchildren (Josef’s grandson is marrying Lenka’s granddaughter) and find what they’ve been looking for all these years – each other.
The Lost Wife by Alison Richman is the book I’ve been wishing for while trying to get through the so-so novels. Although the prologue made it pretty clear that Josef and Lenka would eventually reunite – and hence I did not shy away from revealing this fact in the review – the story of their initial meeting, courtship and subsequent years apart had me glued to the pages.
The Lost Wife is written from both Josef’s and Lenka’s perspectives in alternating chapters. Lenka’s narrative is one of the past as she recounts her years in the Terezin ghetto and later in Auschwitz. If I had to find one issue with the novel, it’d be the fact that Lenka’s narrative would sometimes switch to present tense while still describing the past. The transition was a bit jarring at first, but didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.
Lenka’s stories provided the meat of the novel and most of the details, while Josef’s chapters were dedicated more to his feelings and the effect his love for Lenka had on his second marriage. Both narratives were powerful, but I found myself enjoying Lenka’s chapters more as they provided a more continuous timeline of events.
Books dealing with the Holocaust are never particularly easy to read, but the love shared by the two main characters and their eventual reunion gave The Lost Wife a hopeful tone. It was even more so given the fact that the book was based on an actual couple who reunited many years after the war – Richman overheard their story while getting a haircut.
The Lost Wife gave me chills and had me both smiling and tearing up as I turned the pages. I hope it will do the same for you.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Berkley Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.