#BlogTour The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl

Today it’s my turn on the BlogTour The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl, (Translator: Don Bartlett). It’s a driven, enthralling combination of crime, spy, political and historical fiction with skewed lines of betrayal, truth and justice.

About the Author

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

Follow @ko_dahl @OrendaBooks #TheCourier on Twitter, Visit  kjelloladahl.no

Buy The Courier

About the book

In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz.

In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood best friend.

A relationship develops between them, but ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire. And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…

Review

Nicely done! This author plans with such meticulous accuracy it’s a pleasure to read how the crime, the solution and whole premise comes full circle from start to fruition. At times the reader is left wondering how on earth all the threads are going to be pulled together successfully or indeed at all.

The author takes the reader back and forth through three timelines. It starts in 2015 when Turid recognises a stolen family heirloom on an auction site and she sets out to retrieve what is rightfully hers. Then we are taken into the year 1942 and the world of the Holocaust, occupied Finland and the men and women of the resistance.

Some of those characters reunite again in the 1960s, when a former resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, rises from the dead to return to his daughter. A young woman orphaned as a baby when both parents are killed in the midst of a brutal war.

I was sure of the whodunnit from the get-go, but the author made me doubt the why and often even if I was right about the culprit. For me, although it is at the core a story about one murder hidden in a decade full of murderous atrocities, it’s also about the circumstances which lead to the crime. The attempt to let the past and the dead rest in peace, and understanding that sometimes the truth is best left buried.

It’s also about whether a leopard changes its spots, especially when it is given the opportunity to prey on more vulnerable targets than ever before. Does fighting against an evil regime, a sense of righteous indignation and need for vengeance give certain people a false sense of brotherhood and trust? The kind of misplaced trust that can kill people perhaps.

It’s a driven, enthralling combination of crime, spy, political and historical fiction with skewed lines of betrayal, truth and justice. Kjell Ola Dahl is a scribe who writes with conviction and a simmering passion for the written word.

Buy The Courier at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: Orenda Books: pub date 21 Mar. 2019. Buy at Amazon com.

Read my review of The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl,  Read my review of Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl.

#BlogTour Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin

It is my pleasure to take part in the BlogTour for Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin. I do enjoy a read that makes the reader think and ask questions. The readers may come away from it with very different experiences, but either way it will be a memorable one.

About the Author

Linda Smolkin always wanted to be a writer—ever since she saw her first TV commercial and wondered how to pen those clever ads. She got her degree in journalism and became a copywriter. Linda landed a job at an ad agency, where she worked for several years before joining the nonprofit world. She’s currently working on her second novel, which will be released in Spring 2018. When not in front of the computer, she’s behind the drums (slightly) annoying her husband, son, and their 70-pound dog.

Follow @lindasmolkin  on Twitter @AuthorLindaSmolkin on Facebook

Visit  lindasmolkin.com

Buy Among the Branded

About the book

What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life?

While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.

Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, AMONG THE BRANDED explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs. This moving debut novel by Linda Smolkin is a great addition for readers who enjoy books by Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Liane Moriarty.

Review

Among the Branded is a story about family and making emotional connections even when there are no blood ties. When Stephanie buys a vintage love letter at a re-enactment festival called Valor of the 40’s, she finds herself drawn to discover the people mentioned in the letter. The letter is written by a Jewish woman trying to save her family, who are already embarked on their path straight to a certain death, however their then five year old son Isadore was rescued from the hands of the Nazi’s. Stephanie makes it her mission to discover their story and in doing so finds herself making the kind of human connection we all wish for in life.

Stephanie represents each and every one of us. Smolkin has made her main character the collective conscience, which is a bold move in a story some may just wave away as a tale of friendship. It isn’t, whether it is per chance or intentional, the author is asking her readers to acknowledge that the way we react in our generation can perhaps change the repetitive process of human mistakes and history.

Kudos to Smolkin for calling out France by the way. Quite a few countries like to whitewash their involvement in the Holocaust or try to change the narrative of the past. At this very moment Poland is trying to force the world and its own countrymen to accept their new and improved version of their involvement in the atrocities. Let’s wave at Switzerland too. while we’re at it.

For me the most intriguing storyline was the one about business over conscience. Every one of us has a set of morals and ethics we live by, and sometimes we are put in positions where we have to make a choice to follow them or not. In this case it is money vs working with an anti-Semite, a neo Nazi.

You might not be aware of it, but every one of us has probably bought or used the products produced or funded by companies with dark pasts or involved in dubious dealings. Ask yourself whether you would still buy the stylish fountain pen or school pencil if you knew the brand had a Nazi past (Faber-Castell), how about driving a BMW, VW, Audi, Mercedes or bought a Hugo Boss perfume or an article of clothing (those SS suits looked sharp, didn’t they?).

So we have to make a choice whether or not to fund the collaborators or firms like I.G.Farben, who used slave labour and built labour camps near Auschwitz or buy elsewhere because of their contribution to mass murder. To be completely fair one would have to acknowledge that these are historic crimes, but what if the brand was a known fascist, racist or anti-Semite now? Would you still give them your money?

I see outrage when it comes to the use of real fur, mass transports of animals and animal testing. Consumers making a choice to buy elsewhere. I wonder why other causes have more validity than the ones with links to or collaboration with historical war crimes?

We have a choice and a voice, instead of staying silent and letting hate rule our countries we need to step up to the plate and speak out. Let’s not watch the world sit by idly once again, as fascists scaremonger the ill-informed and repeat the past again.

Although Smolkin presents her story softly and with great care not to rock any boats, I believe the dialogue between the lines is one of great clarity. It speaks of kindness, compassion and understanding, whilst drawing a clear boundary in the sand when it comes to hatred.

Buy Among the Branded at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Pub. date 28th April 2018

My Dear Ones: One Family and the Final Solution by Jonathan Wittenberg

my dear onesWittenberg presents the fate of his family members and friends through a series of written correspondence throughout the Nazi regime, the war and the years after WW2.

I can imagine it must have been incredibly painful and frustrating to read such loving, but often mundane letters, knowing that they were being prevented from writing the truth. Their letters were censored and towards the end more or less dictated to them by others, to give the impression they were being cared for by their captors.

At times it seems as if the author would rather accept the frivolity and pretence of the content of the letters, despite being aware of and relating the historical facts and truth. I believe this is his attempt to maintain a scholars neutrality. Never presume, and if you can, always back your facts up with evidence, which he has done in every instance. He has narrowed down the possible scenarios to the nearest provable possibility, and does not venture into what might have happened. His conclusions are based on written testimony and eyewitness reports.

The factor of the unknown is what plagued, and still plagues, the majority of the survivors and their descendants. The Nazi regime and their collaborators were meticulous record-keepers and when the time came experts at destroying said records and evidence.

You can’t erase years of well-planned mass murder. You can however change the narrative of history, which is why Holocaust deniers are so dangerous.

Wittenberg reads between the lines, as his family members have done before him, so the narrative becomes one between stark reality and wishful thinking. It is obvious that Jonathan Wittenberg has spent a lot of time searching for some wisp of memory, a physical residue or a sense of being in the locations his ancestors once walked, lived and died in.

In trying to find understanding and peace, he has also tried to find an imprint they may have made on their journey through life. Something more than just restricted handwritten letters, and although these are a priceless family heirloom, one can feel he wanted to connect with them on a more spiritual level. I feel you, I feel your pain. We are family, my blood is your blood, and we will never forget you.

Which is of course the essence of any biographical or autobiographical story about the Holocaust. To tell the world, remind the new generations of those who live on only in the memories of their loved ones, so they will be less inclined to repeat the past.

In his own way Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi Wittenberg has created a written testimony to keep the memories alive. To keep the truth from being extinguished, much like every inch of their existence and their lives were eradicated in an attempt to act as if they had never even existed at all.

Buy My Dear Ones at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @RabbiWittenberg

Visit jonathanwittenberg.org

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

tattooistTaking into consideration that this is an eyewitness narrative, which I find preferable when it comes to Holocaust themed books, and an important historical account, I do wonder if Lale Solokov subconsciously or inadvertently romanticized the more uplifting parts of his story.

Memory is a tricky thing at the best of times, recalling memories made under extreme duress and/or trauma can sometimes interfere with the way we interpret memories.

I believe he made life seem simpler and less traumatic than it was. His relationship and encounters with Gita read like a complicated romance novel, and because of that some of the scenarios seem improbable.

When he or rather the author, relates the more brutal and heinous events there seems to be a reluctance to be cruel and honest. There is no such thing as gratuitous when it comes to laying bare the crimes of the Holocaust.

Again I am not sure whether that was Lale or the author changing the narrative just slightly to make the romance pop more or if it was just easier to focus on a more pleasant scenario. To remember the positive of meeting her instead of the negative of fearing she would die.

Like many survivors, Lale sat on his story for many decades. It wasn’t until Gita died that he decided the world needed to know his story. I can imagine he felt terrible survivor’s guilt and guilt in general for perhaps feeling like he contributed to the demise of many victims. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to see the physical proof of his personal trauma on real people. Being responsible for marking his fellow humans like cattle.To him it would have been irrelevant that he had no choice. Survival is an instinct, and I am glad a lot of survivors lived to tell the world about the heinous crimes of the Holocaust.

As I said before, the stories of survivors need to be told, without them there is more chance we will repeat the past. Morris does that in a sensitive way, and she brings a little lightness to a very dark story.

Buy The Tattooist of Auschwitz at Amazon uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @BonnierZaffre

A fantastic Q&A with Affinity Konar, author of Mischling

To celebrate the paperback release of of her novel Mischling Affinity Konar agreed to take part in a Q&A and answer some of my questions about her fantastic book. My review might be a tad long, but in my defence, this was such a good read I couldn’t stop talking about it.

About the Author

Affinity Konar was raised in California. While writing Mischling, she worked as a tutor, proofreader, technical writer, and editor of children’s educational workbooks. She studied fiction at SFSU and Columbia. She is of Polish-Jewish descent, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

She dearly misses writing about Pearl and Stasha, and is grateful to any reader who might find the company of the twins.

Visit affinitykonar.com Follow @affinity_konar @leeboudreauxbks @littlebrown

Buy Mischling

About the book

Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past. Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.

It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks–a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin–travel through Poland’s devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.

Q&A

Before we get started on the Q&A I would just like to say how much I enjoyed Mischling. At times I felt as if I was with those children in the camp and could feel their despair, which is truly the mark of a great storyteller.

It must have been incredibly difficult to immerse yourself into the subject matter of the Holocaust, and perhaps even more difficult, the medical experimentation. Thank you so much Cheryl—it’s always very rewarding to hear such things, but to know that the emotions were very present for you is deeply meaningful to me with respect to this particular book, and its many challenges. So thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed, and the lovely, thoughtful questions!—AK

What was it that made you want to write about this particular heinous part of 20th century history? My family was able to leave Poland in 1932,  and one of my grandfathers served in WWII so I always felt naturally drawn to the period as a child. It was a fixation that was unhealthy in many ways, but couldn’t be helped. In the course of touring, I’ve been fortunate to meet many scholars who have devoted their entire lives to the preservation of this history; they often describe this as a choiceless pursuit, one often informed by a personal sense of crisis. While my engagement has been less intense, that description is something I can relate to. All I really know is that when I found the story of the twins in “Children of the Flames” by Lucette Lagnado, I started hearing an imagined echo, a kind of conversation between a pair of twins who were determined to survive. But I didn’t imagine that it would be a book, and I didn’t consciously set out to write it for years.

Do you believe that despite great outcries of ‘We shall never forget, always remember and let’s not make the same mistakes again’ that the world needs books like Mischling to remind people of those sentiments? I very much believe that this is so; I think fiction’s great gift to us is its ability to collapse distance. The testimonies of survivors and witnesses, the art that came from the camps, all the nonfictional accounts—these will always be the most vital warnings. But I like to think that fiction can serve a purpose in this attempt, that it can effectively trail behind history as a kind of shadow, because it can provoke empathy on a level that can force one to imagine this suffering differently, and with a nod to the fact that genocide is not limited to a certain time, people, or place. Such work can remind us to check our language, our actions, and encourage a kind of vigilance; it’s easy for remembrance to become a passive act, even while “never forget” is something that remains a fixture of our consciousness.

You have researched and written extensively in great detail about the Holocaust and Mengele’s atrocities, has it taken its toll on you in any way? I was uncomfortable speaking about this for some time, because I felt that the personal effects of this research had no place in this conversation. But while touring, I’ve been approached by generous people who express concern after hearing me speak. So I guess I don’t hide it very well, especially when Mengele’s crimes are addressed. I suspect that I’ve begun to block certain facts and images, but there are those that will always remain, and should remain. I went into this process with an immense respect for survivors and their descendants–they carry an unimaginable burden–and when my immersion was complete, that respect enlarged to include journalists, social workers, therapists, criminal investigators—anyone whose work requires a relentless attention to trauma, because it forces you to live a double-life, mentally, in order to remain functional.

In a lot of the scenes the reader feels the strange intimacy and bond between the children in the Zoo and the twins. You also described the way each twin dealt with the emotional and physical torture in their own way, which makes their individual status more evident in the story. Was it important to you to show readers the effect on their bonds as twins, and also on the girls as individuals? I love this question, because the portrayal of these bonds, and the individual natures of Pearl and Stasha, was one of the significant challenges of the book. Twins are so symbolic, a built-in cheat—I worried that I might end up fetishizing them in a super-literary way that felt unacceptable within the novel’s aims. My big fear was that one would end up serving as a kind of foil to the other; I was most concerned about Stasha’s very elaborate voice overwhelming Pearl’s. But strangely, this began to fall away as I explored Pearl’s burden to bear witness to these events in a precise fashion. Her personality arose from that need, and met, rather naturally, Stasha’s own posture of lament. I wanted two distinct personalities that joined each other in the need for remembrance, their resistance against Mengele, and their love of family. It’s funny because I often hear from readers that they wished that they had a twin growing up—I always felt that way too. But there’s also a complexity to this bond that we often overlook. So I wanted to allow it all the beauty that such a relationship deserves, while being careful to explore how painful it might be too.

On a lighter note, were and are you surprised by the success of Mischling? I was surprised that I even finished the book at all! It was an intensely private thing for years, so to have it find anyone, much less my agent Jim and my editor Lee—that was hugely disorienting. And I’m disoriented all over whenever I see a translation venture out. “Success” is a hard word for me to relate to, especially with respect to this novel—I tend to think of it just as this object that I started writing when I was really lost and had dropped out of high school. But I find it deeply gratifying to receive letters from people about their families and their histories, and it’s probably the sweetest thing to hear readers refer to Stasha and Pearl with the same affection I’ve had for them for so long. I never expected the book to be real, much less for it to receive such a kind welcome, and I’ll always be shocked by that.  

Review

Mischling is a fictional story based on, or rather Konar took inspiration from, the true experiences of Holocaust survivors.

In particular on those of the twins, who made up the majority of the 3000 children unfortunate enough to end up in the hands of the sadistic Dr. Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death.

He was known to pick twins, triplets and any other people with specific abnormalities, because of his interest in genetics. He shared his findings with his mentor and the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, the predecessor of the Max Planck Institute.

Only a small number of those children survived the experiments and the concentration camp. Many of those have suffered from numerous medical problems, were mutilated and have subsequently succumbed to the repercussions of the experiments inflicted upon them, including eyewitness and survivor Miriam Mozes.

Tragically the medical manipulations have possibly also been passed down to future generations. A few of the very small number of these particular survivors, who are still alive, and their offspring have willingly participated in research to try and understand the future consequences of those experiments and the possible genetic changes caused by the them and the trauma (epigenetics).

The survivors have had to live with the nightmares of being part of Mengele’s sadistic human zoo. They have beaten the odds to survive and tell their tales only to be struck down by the same man at a later date, and the fact his actions may also be making their offspring ill, is truly diabolical. Luckily he isn’t here to pat himself on the back.

Mengele managed to evade any form of punishment for his actions. He lived in comfort with his family for many years in Argentina, as did many war criminals from the Nazi regime.

Mengele used the platform of the concentration camp to live out his cruel, sadistic tendencies all in the hypothetical name of science and research. Fact of the matter is he enjoyed and took pride in the pain he inflicted on others. His victims were nothing more than subjects in his mind. Aside from the horrific and inhumane experimentation, he also often abused, tortured and killed for pleasure, during his reign in Auschwitz.

Pearl and Stasha are the main characters in Mischling. They are Jews with fair hair, hence why Mengele thinks they are Mischlinge (of mixed race). Each twin tells their own story, switching from chapter to chapter. Stasha believes that Mengele views her as special, which is why he makes her immune from death. This belief and her retreat into a world of imagination and denial, is how she deals with the trauma. Whereas Pearl is a realist and remains resourceful throughout her time with Mengele. Stasha seems oblivious to the abuse and experimentation both she, but especially her sister has to endure. The disappearance of Pearl is pivotal in the change in her behaviour. The fact she doesn’t want to accept the death of her twin is ultimately what saves Stasha from giving up. Denial is her coping mechanism.

Stasha connects with a young boy, who has lost his own twin. The loss of the twin was very important to the survival of any the remaining twin in Auschwitz. When one died the other would soon be killed, so Mengele could compare and autopsy the corpses.

survivors

Some of the children who survived the experiments

So, imagine you are faced with death or collaboration. The type of collaboration that kills you inside bit by bit, forced to commit abominations under duress. How guilty does that make you? There is a huge difference between those that collaborated with the regime and helped willingly, and those that had no other choice but death. They tried in their own way to help fellow prisoners. Many children, often not even related, were passed off as twins, in an attempt to give them a greater chance of survival.Pearl finds herself drawn to the Jewish doctor who assists Mengele, albeit unwillingly, and the Czech soldier in charge of the admin. Both of them struggle with the guilt of their actions. One of elements of the Holocaust that Konar alludes to in Mischling is the culpability of those people forced to become part of the systematic extermination. In a life or death situation you make a choice, and in this instance those choices weren’t always about self-preservation. There were family members and fellow victims to consider and the majority wanted to make sure the world knew what the Nazi regime had done.

To be completely frank it isn’t an easy read, if you look at it on a purely emotional level. Even after all these years, having read, watched and listened to many survivor’s relate their stories, I can still can’t fathom the depth and range of the inhumanity of the Holocaust.

Although I loved the read, despite the horrific nature of the topic and the fact it is based on true events, I did feel as if the last few chapters didn’t do the rest justice. I can imagine that even as an author both the writing and the research of not only the Holocaust, but specifically the atrocities committed by Mengele, would take a toll on anyone. Suck the heart and soul right out of you. It felt as if Konar had been weighted down and burdened by all of it towards the end. As a reader and as a Mensch I can completely understand that. Kudos to the author for this powerful, insightful and extremely poignant read.

It is not only a read I highly recommend, it is also one I will be gifting to others.

Buy Mischling at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Remembering the Mengele Twins at the CANDLES Holocaust Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

the orphan's taleI’ve read a lot of books about the Holocaust. Non-fiction, fiction, biographical and eyewitness accounts. I admit to being shocked and saddened when I read a fact about the Holocaust I wasn’t previously aware of.

Unfortunately it is usually something even more inhumane and heartbreaking than the facts I have already read about.

After all these years, and all the accounts, I still find it hard to fathom and comprehend the atrocities committed during the Nazi era. Pam Jenoff discovered the reference to and details of the baby train in the archives of Yad Vashem.

A train carriage full of babies on their way to a concentration camp. No food, no water or milk, no human touch and no saviour in sight. Just helpless infants on the road to certain death. Many of them succumbing to the lack of care before they reached their final destination.

Jenoff combines this horrific fact with the true story of circus families who hid Jews in the midst of their travelling shows, during the Nazi-era.

The baby in this story is pivotal in connecting and binding all the characters. The child is a symbol for Noa and is synonymous with survival. The survival of every Jew, every gypsy and every victim of the regime. It doesn’t matter where he came from or who he really belongs to, all that matters is making sure he lives to tell the tale.

Jenoff tugs on the heartstrings, whilst awakening the moral compass in every one of us. She mixes fact with fiction to create memorable reads. If you want your heart to bleed, your eyes to weep and want to reach inside the book and hug the characters, well that’s what this author does best.

Buy The Orphan’s Tale at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @PamJenoff  @HarlequinBooks on Twitter, on Facebook PamJenoffauthor, or visit pamjenoff.com

Read The Last Embrace or The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Sweet Breath of Memory by Ariella Cohen

Today is my turn on the Blog-tour for Ariella Cohen’s debut adult novel Sweet Breath of Memory. It  is an interesting journey of grief, memories, guilt and friendship.

About the author

Ariella is a graduate of Columbia University, the Hebrew University and the University of Michigan Law School.  Although she makes her home in New England, her dream self resides in County Mayo, Ireland.

Sweet Breath of Memory is her debut novel and she’s hard at work on the sequel. Ariella believes in the healing power of cat purrs, champagne, Vivaldi and almond cookies.

To read more about Ariella Cohen go to ariellacohenauthor.wordpress.com

Follow @ariella_cohen or @Kensingtonbooks on Twitter

About the book

With its tree-lined streets, vibrant downtown and curbside planters of spring bulbs, Amberley, Massachusetts, seems a good place for Cate Saunders to start over. It’s been two years since her husband, John, was killed in Iraq and life has been a struggle. Her new job as a caregiver doesn’t pay much, but the locals are welcoming. In fact, Cate has barely unpacked before she’s drawn–reluctantly at first–into a circle of friends.

There’s diner-owner Gaby, who nourishes her customers’ spirits as well as their bodies; feisty Beatrice, who kept the town going when its men marched off to WWII; wise-cracking MaryLou, as formidable as Fort Knox but with the same heart of gold; and, Sheila, whose Italian grocery is the soul of the place. As Amberley reveals itself to be a town shaped by war, Cate encounters another kindred spirit–a Holocaust survivor with whom she feels a deep connection. When revelations about John’s death threaten Cate’s new-found peace of mind, these sisters-in-arms’ stories show her an unexpected way forward. And Cate comes to understand that although we suffer loss alone, we heal by sharing our most treasured memories.

Review

At the very heart of it this story is about friendship. Strong supportive relationships between women, regardless of their ages and backgrounds. They share bonds through pain, loss and tragedy.

The reader learns about their personal stories and how the bonds between them became so strong in the first place. The main character is welcomed into the folds of this unusual small town. Enveloped by the care, the concern, the questions and the emotions of all these close-knit women.

Cate has been fighting an inner battle of guilt and grief since the death of her husband. He died in combat, or so the powers that be say. She is convinced that there is something fishy about his death. Her own personal guilt about not being able to help him or be there for him when he needed her the most, is what fuels her quest for answers.

Cohen integrates quite a few historical, political and socio-economic issues of our era into the story. One of those is the blanket of silence over the deaths of soldiers in recent wars. Loved ones are looking for answers, and the way veterans and widows (ers) aren’t supported sufficiently after their service to their country is over.

Then there is Miriam’s story, which becomes the inspiration for Cate and her writing. The tragic tale of a war refugee, a Holocaust survivor and a woman who has lost everything. Cate starts finding single pages of a journal written by Miriam or rather the pages find her. The pages tell the tale of her tragic journey from the Lodz Ghetto all the way to Amberley. She describes the horror of war, of the Holocaust and of the death she managed to escape.

The underlying element and moral of  Cohen’s story is allowing ourselves to feel compassion for others. Learning to recognise how similar we are and yet how different our reactions are to grief, loss, anger and sorrow. An interesting read.

Buy Sweet Breath of Memory at AmazonUK, Waterstones or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.