Rating: 4.5 / 5
Josef Kohn is at the rehearsal dinner for his grandson, Jason. At the dinner, he notices a woman who reminds him of his first wife, Lenka, but it can’t be Lenka because Lenka, her younger sister Marta, and their parents perished at Auschwitz. Although Josef, also Jewish, made it safely to America, for the past six decades he has been haunted by regret over leaving Lenka behind. The Lost Wife is the love story of Josef and Lenka during World War II. It is told from both points of view; Josef’s struggle to find out the fate of Lenka, and then his struggle six years later to accept the fact that she did not make it out of the war alive, and Lenka’s struggle at Terezin. Josef’s life is filled with longing and dwindling hope. In America, he married Amalia, another war survivor, but both have secrets and hidden heartaches, and the marriage is about staving off loneliness rather than love. Lenka’s life is purely about survival. Terezin was a city constructed solely to house Jews, but the facilities are overcrowded and filthy. There is never enough food, most are overworked, and on a daily basis many of them are shipped off, never to be seen again.
World War II historical novels run the risk of being overly dramatized and sensationalized, and it’s not hard to see why. That period of time was horrific, and, thankfully, a majority of people today will never experience an ounce of the terror or pain inflicted on those who suffered through World War II. When most people think about the German occupation and the atrocities levied against Jews, concentration camps such as Auschwitz quickly come to mind, and that is where The Lost Wife differs from other historical novels set in this time period. Richman focuses on Terezin ghetto, which was not a concentration camp, but was nonetheless home to cruelty, barbarism, and murder. This novel is a subtle yet profound reminder that European Jews who were not immediately sent to gas chambers were still tortured and treated inhumanely.
The Lost Wife is beautiful and haunting. It is impossible to truly grasp the horrors that were inflicted on European Jews while being ruled by the Third Reich. Lenka’s spirit and courage is inspiring, and Josef’s loyalty is heartbreaking. Richman is an amazing storyteller, and has the ability to draw the reader in with the first chapter. The characters are endearing, and while some parts of The Lost Wife were difficult to get through due to the emotional toll, it was a moving journey to see how fate brought Lenka and Josef back together. Although The Lost Wife is a mainly a love story, it also portrays the depths of depravity but also the resilience and hope that humans possess. I would definitely recommend The Lost Wife to anyone who loves historical fiction (and doesn’t mind shedding a tear or two).