The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
As I told you in my last post, I am a sucker for historical fiction. This book is that, and it does not disappoint.
Set primarily in World War II era France, Eva Traube’s life is upended when the Nazis start ripping Jews from their homes. She ends up at a small town on the border of Switzerland, and falls in with a network of people working to usher vulnerable individuals across the border.
I don’t know if it’s just the book clubs I’m in, or whether there is actually a lot of books about World War II lately, but I feel like I’ve read more than my share of World War II fiction over the last few years. That said, Lost Names was very good. It managed to be both at times gut-wrenching and uplifting. While the “Jew in hiding” story is not an uncommon theme, watching a character become empowered and sure in her skin while helping others is not super common, and it was a delight to read. Plus there was romance. It was well done, and that’s always a bonus in my book.
Now, let me tell you about the one thing I really didn’t care for about the book. It’s a trope I’m really not fond of in writing, and in this case, it involves heavy spoilers for the novel. So, if you haven’t read the novel, but you’re interested, please avert your eyes.
***SPOILERS START HERE***
So, throughout the story, Eva falls in love with Remy, but things are far too treacherous for them to do anything about it. Well, they end up doing that whole “we’ll meet when this is over” thing in secret code, and then Eva waits for him…and waits. Finally, she meets someone else, moves away and has a decently happy life with this fella. In 2005, (where the story has been periodically popping in and out of) she goes back to Paris where – surprise! She finds Remy.
Here’s what I, personally, loathe: Why not just let her be happy with Remy without a 60 year interlude? After all she goes through, and this is fiction, why not just give her that?
But also, what about this poor chap she married? While the book says that she was happy, it does so in such a way that feels very clear that he was no Remy, and that she never spoke of Remy until the events in 2005. I thoroughly dislike this trope of, “she married this guy and he was good enough!”
***SPOILERS END HERE***
On the whole, I was really engrossed in the story. There were characters I loved and felt for, and there were characters I vehemently disliked, and all felt very well-written. I’m not sure I’ll go back and read the book again – heaven knows I barely have time for unread books, let alone to go back – but I liked it enough that, for now, it’s sitting on my keeper shelf. If I do decide to part with it, I’m going to try and pass it on to a friend rather than tossing it in the donation box. That’s how I know that I really adored it.
So because I really couldn’t put the book down and couldn’t help but feel connected to the character despite being nothing alike, The Book of Lost Names snags the number nine spot on my top ten list for 2020.