Title: The Book of Lost Names
Author: Kristin Harmel
Page Length: 400
Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Gallery Books
Synopsis: Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.
The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?
As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.
An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.
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The Book of Lost Names is a historical novel that chronicles one Jewish woman’s experiences in France during World War II. The book begins with Eva, an elderly American librarian, seeing an article in the newspaper about books that were taken by the Nazis during the war. Eva recognizes the book in the article as hers and heads to Berlin to reconnect with her past and the book of lost names. On her journey, she reflects on all of the events that occurred during those harrowing war-time years and her role in the resistance.
The book switches between the present and 1940s France when Eva and her mother are forced to flee Paris. They end up in a remote Parisian town where Eva joins the resistance as a forger creating documents for orphaned Jewish children that are fleeing to Switzerland.
As they witness the atrocities of war, Eva’s mother makes a startling comment that changes Eva’s life forever. “They are erasing us, and we are helping them.” Eva, worried about their identities being erased, uses a book to secretly record the real names of the children.
This is a captivating look at how one woman changed the lives of hundreds of young people. Eva is a complex protagonist who joins the resistance, despite her mother’s protests, and puts her own life on the line to help others. In the midst of war and rebellion, Eva falls in love, deals with her mother’s disapproval (and often abusive ire), and realizes what is most important to her.
The love story is a slow-burning piece of happiness and lightness in the middle of chaos and tragedy. Eva and Remy have a deep and profound connection, and those feelings never fade. Other relationships in the story are fascinating as well, including Ava’s complicated relationship with her mother, the unique friendship with an old school friend, and the family-like relationships among the members of the resistance.
I also like that the book examines the different ways in which people deal with pain, tragedy, and loss. Eva is a fighter. She pushes back and refuses to sit passively, especially when the people she cares about are in danger. Eva’s mother falls prey to bitterness, anger, and despair. Others in the resistance, like Remy, Pere Clement, Genevieve, and Madame Noirot fight for the future, offer support and sanctuary and remain vigilant in their optimism and surety.
The powerful messages made in this book, not just about the war but about people, highlight universal themes. For example, Eva in the present is in her eighties and is very much underestimated. People disregard and discourage her because of her age. It is similar to her years in the resistance when she is underestimated because of her youth and gender. Messages about freedom, persecution, and the profound effect one’s actions have on others are other poignant messages throughout the story.
Though I generally liked the pacing of the novel, the ending felt a bit abrupt. There were some questions left unanswered in relation to the lost names, Remy, and Eva’s relationship with her son. I would have like to see more resolution and explanation in these instances. That being said, the ending was also emotional and moving. It was equally devastating and uplifting, and I didn’t want it to end. I wept copiously through the events of the last several chapters of the story. Though this was my first read by Kristin Harmel, it certainly won’t be my last!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the early read in exchange for an honest review.
- Eva. She is a dynamic and complex protagonist. Her strength, resilience, and bravery are admirable and often underappreciated.
- The wonderful commentaries about reading and books. There are so many lines about the love of books that I related to.
- The lessons about fighting for others, ensuring one’s memory is not erased, and learning from the past.
She doesn’t understand what it means to love books so passionately that you would die without them, that you would simply stop breathing, stop existing.
We have to save those we can-because we couldn’t save the people we loved.
When you grow comfortable hiding within a protective shell, it’s harder than one might expect to stand up and say, ‘Actually folks, this is who I am.’
Readers who enjoy historical fiction set during World War II will enjoy this novel.