Except for the red hair and flashlight, the image below reminds me of a long-ago youngster. I vividly recall lying in bed hidden beneath sheet and blankets, eyes focused on a book which I was determined to read even though the lights in the room were switched off and I’d been duly tucked into bed. Undaunted by the dark room, I depended on an outdoor street lamp which cast its muted light through my second story bedroom window. Many a night I fell to sleep, captivated by tales of heroic deeds and imagined adventures.
My motto at that time might have been So many books, so little time! Books were my favored pathway and the universe seemed unlimited. After mentioning book recommendations in my previous post, I was reminded of several volumes I (1) have recently started, (2) am currently reading through or (3) have just completed. Contemplating the image above, I understand vicariously the delight and joy reflected in this child’s face.
A friend for whom I have great respect posted (on her social site) information about a “must-read” book, describing it as “outstanding.” Of course, I was intrigued. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel is a Goodreads Choice book (which means it earned 4.43 stars out of 5 by readers who’ve expressed their opinions on the website).
The book was intriguing, with a storyline of a young Jewish student (Eva) living in Paris during World War II. Her studies are interrupted when the Nazis storm into Paris and begin rounding up Jewish citizens including her father. One of her father’s acquaintances urges Eva to flee Paris with her mother before they’re captured. The two women travel to southeast France (the fictional town of Aurignon) in hopes Eva might be able to find assistance and successfully continue to evade Nazi capture.
Chapters of the book alternate between Eva’s experiences in 1940s France and present-day where Eva is now a woman in her 80s. The older Eva briefly recounts her life, her marriage, the joys of bearing her son (now an adult) as well as the death of her husband and her present life as a widow. (No spoilers here, just in case someone actually wants to read the book.) Suffice to say, Eva’s constant fear as a Jew-in-hiding forms a credible backdrop for suspense and when Eva casually comes into contact with the French Résistance and ends up assisting them as a document forger, there’s heightened danger.
Throughout the book, the author paints a picture of Eva striving, striving, and striving some more … striving to find a means for rescuing her father from the Nazis, striving to please her mother who often seems inconsolable about their situation, striving to stay true to her Jewish heritage, striving to produce flawless forged documents which protect people from the menacing authorities. In one of the final chapters (31) set in the year 2005, octogenarian Eva still suffers from gnawing self-reproach – the root of her regret rests in her belief she failed to “do enough.” For all her striving, she’s convinced it wasn’t enough.
It’s the same old story. I call them the shoulda-coulda-woulda moments of our lives. The fictionalized Eva finds herself in a difficult (even terrifying) situation, no question about it. But, she responds to the situation as best she can, causing her character to be refined and developed through the trials she faces even as her deeds are imperfect.
The sonnet below speaks to our human weakness. No matter what we do in life, we often feel ill-equipped for the task, don’t we? As someone who believes deeply in God’s sovereignty, I recognize my inability, the moments when I wonder, did I do enough? But God sets a task before us (yes, even being a poet) and we can, I believe, be found faithful.
Reflecting on Eva’s fictionalized story, the narrative confirms she was “faithful,” blooming (as it were) in the place where she found herself. At times, the book had a melancholy flavor, to the point I considered setting the book aside. The ending tied up everything in a neat little bow, which made it less than credible for me. I suspect that’s where the Goodreads.com one- and two-star reviewers might have felt the same. I do part ways with my friend who described the book as outstanding, but I found it to be an interesting read nonetheless. Is it a must-read? I’ll let readers decide for themselves.