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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, 2011, * * *

Star crossed lovers are separated during WWII in Richman's fourth novel.  Josef and Lenka meet as students in Prague in 1936 and fall instantly in love.  Three years later, with Nazis crossing the border they rush to marry, but circumstances force them apart.  Lenka remains in Europe, and Josef flees to America.  For 61 years, each believes the other dead until they meet by chance at the wedding of their grandchildren.  The beautiful city of Prague with its elegant landscape and historical architecture was one of Hitler's conquests.  As in most European cities during WWII, the Jews were the scapegoats, and the Germans enacted the Nuremberg laws giving the Jews little freedom while removing all their worldly possessions to fill their illicit coffers.  Although Josef and Lenka marry Josef's family could secure exit visa only for their family and Lenka's family had no money or possessions to buy their way out of Czechoslovakia .  What follows is not the predictable ghetto/concentration camp horrors.  From the perspective of an artist, Richman provides beautiful images of Prague as well as portraying the grays, blacks, and odors of the camps.  Her writing evokes the smells of flowers and the stench of the train cars, barracks & illnesses prevalent in the camps.    There are secondary characters connecting the plot who are unique and serve to flesh out a balance of personalities.   The one weakness is Lenka's second marriage in contrast to Josef's second marriage.  Survivor's guilt seems to prevent Lenka & Josef from fully enjoying their continued existence.  Richman tackles the difficult subject matter combining undying passionate love with carnage and humiliation.

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