Excerpt from The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Book of Lost Names

by Kristin Harmel

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel X
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 400 pages

    May 2021, 400 pages


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"Thank you, Jenny. Your advice is always so very helpful."

She nods solemnly. It is also apparently beyond her comprehension that someone who looks like me—small, white-haired, grandmotherly—is capable of sarcasm.

Today, though, I have no time for her. All I can think about is the book. The book that held so many secrets. The book that was taken from me before I could learn whether it contained the one answer I so desperately needed.

And now, a mere plane flight away, there's a man who holds the key to unlocking everything.

"Do I dare?" I murmur to the photo of Otto Kühn. I respond to my own question before doubt can creep in. "I must. I owe it to the children."

"Mrs. Abrams?" It's Jenny again, addressing me by my surname, though I've told her a thousand times to call me Eva, just as she addresses the younger librarians by their given names. But alas, I am nothing to her but an old lady. One's reward for marching through the decades is a gradual process of erasure.

"Yes, Jenny?" I finally look up at her.

"Do you need to go home?" I suspect she says it with the expectation that I'll decline. She's smirking a bit, certain that she has asserted her superiority. "Perhaps gather yourself?"

So it gives me great pleasure to look her right in the eye, smile, and say, "Yes, Jenny, thank you ever so much. I think I'll do just that."

I grab the newspaper and go.

As soon as I arrive at my house—a cozy bungalow just a five-minute walk from the library—I log on to my computer.

Yes, I have a computer. And yes, I know how to use it. My son, Ben, has a bad habit of pronouncing computer terms slowly in my presence—in-ter-net and e-mail-ing—as if the whole concept of technology might be too much for me. I suppose I can't blame him, not entirely. By the time Ben was born, the war was eight years past, and I'd left France—and the person I used to be—far behind. Ben knew me only as a librarian and housewife who sometimes stumbled over her English.

Somewhere along the way, he got the mistaken idea that I am a simple person. What would he say if he knew the truth?

It's my fault for never telling him, for failing to correct the error. But when you grow comfortable hiding within a protective shell, it's harder than one might expect to stand up and say, "Actually, folks, this is who I am."

Perhaps I also feared that Ben's father, my husband, Louis, would leave me if he realized I was something other than the person I wanted him to see. He left me anyhow—pancreatic cancer a decade ago—and though I've missed his companionship, I've also had the strange realization that I probably could have done without him much sooner.

I go to the website for Delta—habit, I suppose, since Louis traveled often for business and was part of the airline's frequent-flier program. The prices are exorbitant, but I have plenty stashed away in savings. It's just before noon, and there's a flight that leaves three hours from now, and another leaving at 9:35 tonight, connecting in Amsterdam tomorrow, and landing in Berlin at 3:40 p.m. I click immediately and book the latter. There is something poetic about knowing I will arrive in Berlin sixty years to the day after the Germans signed an unconditional surrender to the Allies in that very city.

A shiver runs through me, and I don't know whether it's fear or excitement.

I must pack, but before that, I'll need to call Ben. He won't understand, but perhaps it's finally time for him to learn that his mother isn't the person he always believed her to be.

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Excerpted from The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel. Copyright © 2020 by Kristin Harmel. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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