Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Galerie by Steven Greenberg

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: April 9, 2016

Every family has secrets, but some are far darker, reach deeper, and touch a rawer nerve than others. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Vanesa Neuman’s childhood in the cramped intimacy of south Tel Aviv is shadowed by her parents’ unspoken wartime experiences. The past for her was a closed book... until her father passes away and that book falls literally open. Vanesa must now unravel the mystery of the diary she has received—and the strange symbol within—at all costs. From Jerusalem, to the backstreets of Prague, and into the former “paradise ghetto” of Theresienstadt, Vanesa’s journey of understanding will reveal a seventy-year-old secret darker than she could have ever imagined.

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Despite my appreciation for the materical, I have to admit to harboring mixed feelings about the time I spent with Steven Greenberg’s Galerie. I was naturally drawn to the subject matter and found the plot fairly interesting, but I didn’t feel the story was as polished as it could have been and I often found myself frustrated with certain elements of its presentation.

Greenberg’s narrative jumps back and forth across multiple times periods and while the structure itself didn’t bother me, I often struggled to appreciate the author’s characters and tone. I felt Greenburg’s use of the third person made it difficult to form an intimate attachment to his characters and felt the style choice distanced me from events of the story. I couldn’t get lost in the story and that fact went a long way in shaping my experience with the book.

I also had a problem with context. Chapter three opens in 1941 and centers on Vanesa’s mother, but third paragraph references “the menace who had attacked Israel on Yom Kippur of 1973…” Jumping backwards in time to cite some prior event is fine, but the same cannot be said of jumping forward along the space time continuum. I found similar instances throughout the book and was ultimately very frustrated with the author’s inability to limit the content to details relevant to the given period.

Why does all this information appear in the text? I can’t say for sure, but I believe Greenburg’s intense passion for the material has a lot to do with it. In reading the book, one can’t help noticing the amount of research that went into the novel and while I wasn’t particularly impressed with Greenburg’s presentation, I did admire the effort and enthusiasm he put into its creation.

Once the novel finds its feet, the plot takes some very creative twists and turns. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, but I was curious enough to follow through to the final page. Greenburg’s utilization of the Holocaust and its repercussions is also worth noting. Few authors tackle concepts relating to second generation survivors and despite my difficulties and concerns, I did appreciate the themes and ideas at the heart of Greenberg’s story.

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But my Vanesa uncovered only one record— a single instance in the masses of documents, testimonies, and personal accounts that she examined that year and in future years— as to what had happened to Michael and his father Jakub between their arrival in Terezin and the end of the war. And this record made no sense.
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