Review: The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman

Read: 8
To Go: 92

Book List:
1. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
2. The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve
3. Creatures of Light and Darkness — Roger Zelazny
4. What We All Long For — Dionne Brand
5. The Guilty Plea — Robert Rotenberg
6. Stray Bullets — Robert Rotenberg
7. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan
8. The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman

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Yesterday was a special day, because I finished two books. First, The Lost Wife, which I’d been working on for a little under a week, and finished at work. Then I started reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist, also at work, and tore through it so quickly that I was done before my shift had even ended. So it’s a double-review day, even though I barely have time for this right now.

In the last calm months of pre-war Prague, Lenka, a young art student, and Josef, the older brother of her best friend, fall in love. On the brink of Nazi invasion they marry, but are separated by the war: Josef emigrates with his family to America, and Lenka remains in Prague with hers, doomed to Terezin and Auschwitz. Though Josef becomes a successful obstetrician, husband, and father of two, he never forgets the first love he left behind. But decades later, an unexpected encounter has him staring into the face of the woman he thought he’d never see again.

When I was reading The Lost Wife piecemeal, I was usually at work (I know it sounds like I don’t actually do anything at my job, but I do — I swear!), and that ended up being a very unfortunate venue for reading. Because I almost burst into tears at least ten times. I’d be sitting at my little cubicle in the call centre trying to stifle my tears in the event that a prospect picked up the phone. The point being: The Lost Wife was a wrenching beauty of a novel.

Taking the reader from the idyllic ease of life in pre-occupation Prague to the horrors of the concentration camps, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, and of memory — from Lenka’s painful recollections of life in the concentration camps, to Josef’s nightly remembrances of his short life with his first wife. Unquestionably the story’s most poignant scene was when Josef had his kaddish for Lenka alone in his bedroom, decades later, to finally put his memories of her to rest. (I actually had to go to the bathroom to compose myself after I read it at the call centre, and I’m crying again now just thinking about it.)

The Lost Wife is a beautifully written, masterfully told love story, with characters who are hardened by time and their personal struggles, but never lose hope.

Next book: The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid

– Kelsey

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