|Published in paperback by Hodder and Stoughton|
12th April 2012
The Lost Wife begins in New York in 2000 with a family wedding, and a revelation. What then follows is a retrospective love story told through a series of individual chapters, following the fortunes of a Jewish Czech couple, Josef Kohn and Lenka Maizel. They meet amid the glamour of pre-war Prague, where Josef is learning medicine, and Lenka is pursuing her love of art at the Prague Academy. They fall in love, but with the threat of war imminent; their hastily arranged marriage is destined to be passionate, but short lived. With danger ever present, Josef and his family have the opportunity of escaping to America, but Lenka refuses to leave, and makes the difficult decision to stay behind in Prague with her mother, father and younger sister. Along with other Czechoslovakian Jews, Lenka and her family are transported, first to the Nazi work camp in Terezin, and then finally to the horror of Auschwitz. Using her love of art as her salvation, Lenka suffers the degradation and horror of the Holocaust, whilst maintaining her principles in the midst of a world gone mad. As the war progresses, and with no news of Lenka and her family, Josef must face an uncertain future in America.
On a personal level I found the novel easy to read, and as Josef and Lenka’s individual narratives are explained in more detail, their characters come alive. The story is quite harrowing at times, with frank and honest depictions of life in the concentration camps, and yet ultimately, this is a beautifully written novel about love, and the redemptive quality of the human spirit to face evil, and the individual fight to overcome adversity.
Tackling difficult issues, and turning them into a readable novel is never going to be easy, and yet the author has managed to put into words a perfect sense of time and place, without ever succumbing to mawkish sentimentality.
This is one of those books that will stay in my imagination for a long time.
Josie and Jaffa