Paperback, 352 pages
Expected publication: September 6th 2011 by Berkley Trade
ISBN: 042524413X (ISBN13: 9780425244135)
primary language English
Richman begins her story at the end: at his grandson's wedding rehearsal dinner, Josef meets the bride's grandmother for the first time but something in her eyes is so familiar to him he thinks he knows her. But, how can it be? He thought her dead. After he sees the six digit tattoo on her arm, he knows for sure. She is his wife, Lenka, his beloved, never forgotten wife who he thought was lost to him sixty years ago.
Told from alternating points of view in flashbacks, Josef and Lenka tell of their young lives from privileged families in pre-war Prague. Lenka recalls her life as an art student when she met Josef, a young medical student and brother of her best friend. She remembers the turmoil of falling in love and marrying while the Nazi regime was beginning to wreck havoc throughout Europe.
"He laughs. And in his laugh I hear bliss. I hear feet dancing, the rush of skirts twirling. The sound of children.
Is that the first sign of love?
You hear in the person you're destined to love the sound of those yet to be born."
Then, after the war had really escalated, their memories are of heartbreaking separation, longing for each other and their existence during and after the war. Josef's is one of comparative ease as he had escaped Prague while it was still possible to get out.
Lenka, unfortunately was not so lucky. Her love for her parents and sister kept her with them instead of escaping with Josef. Of course she thought at some point she would join him, never dreaming she would have to survive life in a concentration camp. It was her artistic ability that probably saved her from a more horrible fate.
I don't want to give away too many more details of the plot but let it suffice to say this is one that is extremely well done; powerful and heart wrenching. It's obvious that Richman has done a tremendous amount of research for her book. I had previously heard about the "model" camp, Terezin, before and of resistance fighters but not how artists, at the risk of their own lives, had tried to make the outside world aware of what was really happening in the camps.
The Lost Wife is an absolutely gorgeous story of the undying power of first love, vivid memories so deep that many years cannot dim, love and loss of family, the will to survive and yes, even hope in the most horrifying circumstances. The writing is exquisitely done. Richman's use of contrast highlights the poignancy in the characters' lives before, during and after the war.
The Lost Wife is one not to be missed. I could not put this one down at all. Even after days, the characters in this story still resonated with me. I felt as if I needed to mourn for some of these characters who had become like family to me during the reading. Yes, they were that well fleshed out! I loved it! Only 2 other books I've read this year rate a 5*****
Alyson Richman is the author of: The Mask Carver’s Son, Swedish Tango, and The Last Van Gogh. As of next year, her novels will be published in more than ten languages. Her books have received both national and international critical acclaim, having been reviewed favorably in The New York Times Book Review, The Dallas Morning News, The San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle Book Review, The Los Angeles Times, and many other national print outlets.The Last Van Gogh was nominated as a Book Sense Notable Pick in 2006. More about Alyson can be found on her website.
Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by Berkley in exchange for my honest opinion.