Guess what? There has been yet another success for me in my lifelong habit of judging a book by its cover. Yea superficiality! You rarely do me wrong. The novel is The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman and the cover is extremely appealing don’t you think?
The Lost Wife is the story of two Holocaust survivors over a sixty year period. Josef and Lenka are students in Prague in 1936 when they meet. They marry in 1939 as the Germans invade Czechoslovakia and very soon are separated by the war. Josef manages to get to America but it costs him more than just his bride. Lenka is unwilling to leave unless she can take her family. She is bereft when Josef doesn’t send for them. She and her family are at first in the “model” ghetto of Terezin. For a brief period Lenka’s artistic ability saves her but when the specter of the camps becomes reality she and her family face a new Hell. When the war finally ends Josef and Lenka’s separation continues as each believes the other must have perished during the war.
Richman tells Josef and Lenka’s stories in separate, alternating chapters. This technique is especially effective as the grief stricken Josef constructs a new life in the U.S. while Lenka suffers through the atrocities of the Holocaust. Of course you know that at some point as the decades pass, as lives are rebuilt that Josef and Lenka will find themselves reunited in some way. The how , the when, the efforts at recovery and normalcy, all the stuff in between is worth finding out on your own.The Lost Wife wears its artifice well. As in her other novels, Richman uses the creation of art to juxtapose the turmoil in personal relationships and the upheavals of history. These moments are particularly poignant when Lenka’s struggles are at their worst. Richman doesn’t let the long separation of Josef and Lenka overwhelm the novel. Their lives apart never read like inconsequential events invented for the reader to bide their time with until The Big Day