Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: June 2, 2012

In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers. Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.

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I flagged this book as 'to read' in October 2011. I skimmed the blurb at that time and added it to my list based on the time frame alone. World War II is sort of my thing after all. It wasn't until I noticed the book at the library that I actually absorbed the basic premise of the story and to be honest, my first thought was 'uh-oh.' I knew the minute I picked it up that it would be coming home with me, I couldn't say no, but I wasn't sure I'd enjoy the book as much as I have other war related fiction. The Holocaust is an important chapter of the war but it is far from my favorite sub topic. I was nervous. 

Two days later I finished the last page and came up for air. Alyson Richman's writing is nothing short of breathtaking. I've encountered plenty of authors with a gift for storytelling but only a handful have ever struck me as truly gifted in their ability to manipulate the written word. The Lost Wife is easily one of the most beautifully composed pieces I've ever picked up. 

As to the plot, Lenka and Josef experience great sadness in the course of their lives, each struggling with their own personal demons. Despite the somber tone of the book I really enjoyed the story Richman crafted for her characters from their first meeting in Prague to their reunion decades later in the United States. Personally I would have liked to see more of Josef's life during the war, more of Lenka's after it, maybe a scene or two after their reunion - I felt a little cheated there, but for the most part I was very satisfied with the piece. I even found aspects of the concentration camp interesting as I had never before studied life at Terezin. Richman didn't change my mind on Holocaust lit but she did craft an exquisite story of strength, love, faith and hope. 

On a side note I find it amusing that several of the reviews express surprise and/or disgust that the end of the story is given away in the opening pages of the book. It is true that we first meet our leading characters in their old age, but, quite frankly, that is disclosed in the blurb. I wonder if these individuals bothered to read the back cover or if they merely opened the title without much thought to the premise. Perhaps it is just me, but I don't think it is particularly fair to denounce a title for something so clearly stated in the description. This isn't a book about where a couple ended up, it is about how they get there. 

Go out, find a copy, and experience it for yourself. The Lost Wife is not one to be passed up. 

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I have come to believe that love is not a noun but a verb. An action. Like water, it flows to its own current. If you were to corner it in a dam, true love is so bountiful it would flow over. Even in separation, even in death, it moves and it changes. It lives within memory, in the haunting of a touch, the transience of a smell, or the nuance of a sigh.
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