Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: The Lost Wife

I began The Lost Wife during my Monday morning commute, and I finished it during my Wednesday evening commute.

I'm not sure what I can even say about it.  It was so unbelievably powerful.  Here is the description, from the author's own website:

During the last moments of calm in prewar Prague, Lenka, a young art student, and Josef, who is studying medicine, fall in love. With the promise of a better future, they marry—only to have their dreams shattered by the imminent Nazi invasion. Like so many others, they are torn apart by the currents of war.

Now a successful obstetrician in America, Josef has never forgotten the wife he believes died in the war. But in the Nazi ghetto of TerezĂ­n, Lenka survived, relying on her skills as an artist and the memories of a husband she would never see again. Then, decades later and thousands of miles away, an unexpected encounter in New York leads to an inescapable glance of recognition, and the realization that providence has given 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 our capacity to remember.

I truly cannot recommend this book strongly enough, but it's definitely not an easy read.  It's a story of love and profound loss, of creativity, of resilience.  There were horrific scenes in the book, made even more tragic by the real events that inspired them.  There were many passages that brought me to real tears, and haunted me even when I wasn't reading.

One of the most poignant passages (I was going to call it a favorite passage, but I don't think that's fair, based upon the content):

"I sometimes let myself wonder what her ghost days were like.  I was looking for a wife, a lover I had left behind.  She was searching for a mother, a father, and a siser who was supposed to have joined her on her journey.  Mine was lost love, hers was lost family.  But loss was loss, wasn't it?  Cold and white.  Blue and dark.  Cut a vein and it bleeds."

And another:

"In my old age, 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 changes.  It lives within memory, in the haunting of a touch, the transience of smell, or the nuance of a sigh.  It seeks to leave a trace like a fossil in the sand, a leaf burned in to baking asphalt.  I never stopped loving Lenka, even when my letters were returned and the newspapers revealed the deaths of millions of Jews who had been incinerated into a ceaseless cloud of black smoke".

The words and imagery are haunting and powerful and horribly, inexplicably, based on real things.  Real events.  I truly cannot imagine the events that lead to the Holocaust, and I can't imagine the evil.  The evil, the evil, the evil.  The world must have seemed so unbelievably bleak to those who were suffering.

This is not an easy book to read, but there is some kind of honor in bearing witness - even when the witness is to a book of fiction.  Something in the honor of remembering, even something we didn't live through.


  1. I'm so jealous of how much you get to read - I can't wait to be done with school (again)and read for fun again! I've added this one to my Amazon Wish List :)

    1. Don't forget that I have a 30-minute (each way!) commute on the bus. That makes it easier for me, too.

      Sooooon! And I have the book (got it from the "library exchange") so if you ever get up to Chicago, it is YOURS! :)


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