Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

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.


  1. I'm at the point where I promised myself I wouldn't even add books to my TBR list anymore. Seriously, I think I have enough unread books in my possession to last the rest of my life! But your glowing review has me jotting this title down. 5 stars is high praise!

  2. This sounds like a bitter sweet novel of love lost and found after years of hardship inbetween!

  3. So glad to hear you loved it. I will be reading it soon, and as you know, I can't wait. I had heard of the camp but not the artists, so it sounds like I'll learn something new. I'll get your review linked on War Through the Generations soon!

  4. Oh, this does sound like an amazing and heart tugging book. I keep thinking that I don't want to read any more books about WWII, and then something like this comes along and proves me wrong. This was a great review and I am so glad to hear that you like the book!

  5. Oh wow, a 5 star book that you couldn't put down?! I wish I could read it right now.

  6. I feel like I need to get a copy of this one pronto!! When you mourn characters that tells me so much. Awesome review!!

  7. Oh My … I can't imagine how amazing and moving and intense this story must be. What an opening!!!! And one of only two books to get a 5 star rating? I'm going to have to add it to the list!

  8. I need to stop reading reviews for a while. I keep adding to my wishlist. At this point I'll be reading books I added this year in about 20. Great review.

  9. I've heard some good things about this book. I'm glad yo enjoyed it. I may have to pick it up one of these days.

  10. This sounds like a good one, but a bit sad. Glad u enjoyed it Kaye.

  11. Thank you so much for your beautiful review of my novel, "The Lost Wife." I'm so touched and honored that you enjoyed the book.


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