The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel
25 May 2021
416 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books
ISBN-13: 9781982131906
Genre: Historical Fiction
Critics:
Readers:
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Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the "epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale" (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker's Wife.

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it's an image of a book she hasn't seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin's Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don't know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

First published in July 2020. Paperback reprint in May 2021

Here are some of the recent comments posted about The Book of Lost Names.
You can read the full discussion here, and please do participate if you wish.
Be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers!


"The path of life is darkest when we choose to walk it alone." Do you agree with this? Discuss the moments in the novel when Eva decides to go it alone and compare them to the moments when she trusts others. (4 responses)

Totally agree with Kimk. And while walking the path alone may be lonely, sometimes you have to be the first one to walk that path so others can follow - Gabi


"You don't need money or weapons or a big platform to change the world. Sometimes, something as simple as a pen and a bit of imagination can alter the course of history." Who in real life do you think best exemplifies this sentiment? (8 responses)

My first thought was Malala Yousafzi. She started with absolutely nothing and now she is a force for educating girls. She displayed so much courage - jeannew


A Q&A with Kristin Harmel (12 responses)

Your book touched my family in a real way. My husband was a lucky survivor of the Drancy roundup. HIs father became aware of the raid and they left Paris just in time to avoid being taken. My husband never reads my book club books, but he picked his one up, scanned it and found it riveting. His ... - rosalynh


Did you feel sympathetic toward Mamusia, or did you grow irritated by her inability to understand Eva's drive to help others? Who or what do you believe is responsible for the growing hostility in their relationship? (19 responses)

I found myself losing patience with Eva's mother, she was acting like the spoiled child and Eva was forced to act like the adult. I realize she lost her husband, felt betrayed by Eva for a host of perceived wrongs she thought Eva was doing and she also felt abandoned by Eva. I do think that ... - gaylamath


Discuss “Evil doesn’t live here anymore…You can’t judge a person by their language or their place of origin – though it seems that each new generation insists upon learning that lesson for itself.” (4 responses)

Before addressing the content of the statement, I'd like to address the "feel" of the statement. Eva must have been overwhelmed with so many conflicting emotions when she arrived in Berlin. However, there was a "larger picture" for her and that's what drove/... - LeahLovesBooks


Do you think Eva was right to keep quiet the night her father was taken? What would you have done? What did Eva's decision reveal about her character and what she might accomplish later? (9 responses)

Oh, most definitely. I agree that the father would have wanted her to save herself and her mother and by staying quiet she did just that. I think all of us have an innate sense to save ourselves and she did that. I think mothers would save their children first but since she didn't have any ... - gaylamath


Eva and her mother react very differently to the news that Tatuś had been sent to Auschwitz. What do their reactions reveal about them as characters? Is a right way or a wrong way to react to such news? (3 responses)

Mamusia either can't or won't accept the reality possibly where Eva, the stronger of the two by necessity, must. There is no right or wrong way as there are so many variables as with these two characters. Their differences in age, experience, and their relationship with Tatus - laurief


Eva believed that Rémy went to his grave not knowing how she felt about him. Do you think Rémy ever thought that Eva had given up on him? If they had found each other, would they have made it as a couple? (10 responses)

I like to think that they would have had a good life together. At the end, I couldn’t help wondering if Remy had ever married and if he had children. It seemed that he was single at the end of the book. If so, that was certainly a stroke of good luck - Patricia Ann


Eva states, “One’s reward for marching through the decades is a gradual process of erasure.” What do you think of this statement? Do you agree? (4 responses)

I think this is true as the further people get away from an event, the less they like to talk about it especially if it was something as horrible as this event was. While not the same I know that when Vietnam vets came home they didn't want to talk about it and I equate this as similar. ... - gaylamath


How did Eva's love of books help her at different points? What were some of your favorite books as a child? When did you first realize the power of books? What book made you fall in love with reading? (8 responses)

I have loved books and books on records (which dates me - lol)/ audiotapes/CDs/digital for as long as I can remember. Some of my early favorites included Charlotte’s Web, Enid Blyton’s series (British), The Wheel on the School (Meinard deJong)... - Gabi


How do you think Eva's past affected the way she raised her son? How are children of Jewish survivors affected by their parents' pasts? Can a parents' trauma and/or resilience to be passed down to the children? (7 responses)

I truly believe that we, as parents, want the best for our children. I believe Eva also felt that way and she did whatever she felt necessary to protect her son. She was beginning a new life, in a new country and why look back worked for her. She was determined to look forward - caroln


How do your opinions of Mamusia and her reaction to Eva's work as a forger change? Do you believe Joseph when he tells Eva that Mamusia said she was proud of the work Eva did to help keep children from being erased? (2 responses)

Mamusia was an extremely hurt woman concerned about her husband and nothing else. No, I don't believe what Joseph said as he was not a trustworthy person - Tired Bookreader


How would you define the main characters in the book? Do their religions or countries play into who they are as people? Do you think they can truly be separated from their backgrounds? (4 responses)

I think all of these factors make up who these characters are, but that's not what they should be judged on. People should be judged on their actions. I wish people were more that way - jeannew


Joseph leads Mamusia to believe her husband will be fine. Eva disapproves of such false hope, but Joseph is unapologetic. Would you rather have false hope or hear the truth? (12 responses)

I'm very literal, I don't dwell in false hopes, so I would want to know the truth. By knowing the truth it allows you to move forward with reality instead of living in hopes and dreams. I'm not sure of Joseph's motivations in giving false hope other than trying to give someone ... - gaylamath


Observing the officers in Drancy Eva wonders, "Could they all be that evil? Or had they discovered a switch within themselves that allowed them to turn off their civility?" What do you think? (15 responses)

Above Theresa furthers this discussion by asking whether the German soldiers returning home after the war felt guilty and/or ashamed for their actions. An interesting question. My assumption (and hope) is that many of the German men and women were horrified by what they did under the... - Gabi


Opening Pages (9 responses)

Dual time lines were difficult to get used to, but I love them too - Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews


Overall, what do you think of The Book of Lost Names? (no spoilers in this thread, please) (28 responses)

I've had this book on my TBR for quite a while and just never made it a priority and then when I received the book, I put it to the top of my TBR. I'm so glad I did and I'm really disappointed that I waited as long as I did to read it. Kristin is one of my favorite authors, I follow... - gaylamath


Was any of Eva's trust misplaced? Were there any red flags about those they should not have trusted? (3 responses)

Eva was too trusting of Joseph because she grew up with him and because he warned her about the possible roundup in Paris. A couple of red flags about him are that he told Genevieve about her father and that he visited her mother often without her knowledge - Patricia Ann


Was anyone able to figure out the code they used? (13 responses)

I couldn’t figure it out either. I missed her explanations, but it definitely was brilliant, gaylamath. :) - Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews


Was anyone curious about how these forgers made the documents look so authentic? (13 responses)

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Cynthia. True that extra information may have made it tedious. It definitely made me curious which is always good. :) - Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews


Was moving on and trying to forget Rémy the right decision for Eva? Did Tatuś give Eva sound advice in telling her to start living her own life? Would you have moved to the US with Louis? (14 responses)

Moving on was the best course of action for Eva. She believed Remy was dead and needed to continue her life. In the chaos following WWII, it was unlikely that she would have found Remy. As a result of all the pain Eva experienced in France, going to the US and leaving the sad memories behind her ... - loisk


Were you surprised to find out that Joseph was the one who betrayed the network? Why do you think the author decided Joseph would be the traitor? What would you have done in Joseph's position? (16 responses)

I guess I read differently than most people as I don't try to figure things out while I'm reading, I let things happen as I get to them. If I try to determine the bad guy, the one that did "it" or whatever the mystery is, I spend my time trying to see between the lines what the ... - gaylamath


What does the selflessness present in so many in Aurignon say about the human capacity for goodness in times of crisis? Do you see that same capacity today? (6 responses)

I should add, that its the selfless people who stand out the most. We should consider the bravery of those who put others first. That was what made the book interesting. Those characters are the ones we remember, not the cruel or selfish ones - linz


What were your feelings about the ending? (Spoiler alert) (25 responses)

I loved the ending. Was it realistic? Maybe. Maybe not. The book is fiction. There's enough predictability and sad endings in real life. Don't we read fiction to distract us from real life? The only criticism I have about the ending is it seemed too abrupt and almost like the ... - cynthial


Who underestimates Eva? Have you felt there are those who’ve underestimated you? If so, who, and in what ways? (5 responses)

Her mother was definitely underestimates her. She was so ungrateful, Eva's moving her and mother out of Paris, was not appreciated by her cranky mother. There were times I don't think I could have been as pleasant as Eva with my responses - caroln


Why do you think Eva kept her past from her son? Is there anyone who you feel knows the "real you"? Who do you think should know you, but really doesn’t? (12 responses)

Everyone including your children doesn't need to know everything about you. Some things serve no purpose by telling others. However, this is a choice that each person has to make many times during their lives. There is no one in my life that knows every single thing about me, every secret, ... - gaylamath

"With meticulous research and an assured hand, Kristin Harmel once again spotlights French Resistance figures of the Second World War, unique heroes whose bravery and immeasurable sacrifices are too often lost to history. The Book of Lost Names is a fascinating, heartrending page-turner that, like the real-life forgers who inspired the novel, should never be forgotten. A riveting historical tale that I devoured in a single sitting." -- Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday

"Harmel brilliantly imagines the life of a young Polish-French Jewish woman during the depths of WWII...Harmel movingly illustrates Eva's courage to risk her own life for others, and all of the characters are portrayed with realistic compassion. This thoughtful work will touch readers with its testament to the endurance of hope." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Not since The Nightingale have I finished a book and been so choked with emotion. Harmel was inspired by the true story of French citizens who fought against evil during WWII with courage and conviction. She shines a brilliant light on those who had their identities erased and lives destroyed, on a country and its people torn apart, and young women like Eva, who risked their lives with everyday acts of epic heroism. Sweeping and magnificent." - Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

"A heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism centered on a female forger who risks everything to help Jewish children escape Nazi-occupied France."- People (20 Best Books to Read this Summer)

"Harmel's previous historical novels, including The Winemaker's Wife (2019), illuminate heartbreakingly real but forgotten stories from World War II, blended with a dash of suspense and romance, and this does the same. Recommend to fans of romantic historical fiction, including All the Ways We Said Goodbye (2020)." - Booklist

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Tired Bookreader
Please Read
One of the best books in 2021. What a shame if it is missed by any historian, especially regarding the holocaust.

There are probably many more aspects of this horrific event that have not yet been written about and the subject is just as sad today as it was when it ended. There is no way to make sense of such a tragedy.

This book gives some hope for humanity and for that I thank the author Kristin Harmel.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Charla Wilson
One of the Best books about WWll
I have read many books about WWII and I put this at the top of the list of the best books about the subject! The story is centered around a young Jewish woman, Eva Traube, living in France with her parents when the Germans invaded. Eva becomes a very good forger of documents that help get Jewish children into Switzerland and to safety. While forging documents Eva works with Remy who is also a forger and part of the resistance movement and together they come up with a way to keep a record of the names of the children they forge new names for. The method they use to keep the list is called the Fibonacci sequence which is placed inside an old Catholic Church book. Sixty years after Eva lost everything she comes across an article about the book being in a German library. Even though Eva never told her family about her role in the war, she leaves everything to go to Germany to collect her book. It is on the trip to collect the book that she starts remembering the war and all that she lived through and the story is told by way of her memory. Like all of these stories it is very sad and difficult to comprehend all of the horrible things that happened. But, it written beautifully and I now look forward to reading other books written by Kristin Harmel.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mary C
The Book of Lost Names” pulled out all my emotions!
I was left weeping and celebrating all at the same time. With the most tender kind of writing for a time in our history where the suffering was intensely exquisite, Kristin Hormel writes with delicacy and in such a warm way that this entire story leaves you breathless, closing the book grateful for knowing this part of history.

When such raw beauty & awe resonates from the pages of a novel, it is because authors like Kristin Harmel can take a character like Eva and make her feel so real to us that we want to reach out and hug her in gratitude!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Carol N.
A Deeper Look into WWII French Resistance...
"The Book of Lost Names" by Kristin Harmel is one of the many books recently published about World War II. I really wasn't looking to read another book on the subject, yet when BookBrowse offered it, I was curious about its unique title. I am glad I was able to read it as it provided me with a deeper look into the French resistance.

This is a story of a young Jewish woman, who struggles to do the right thing for her family, her beliefs, and her country. Eva Traube Abrams, an 86-year-old Florida librarian, is hurled back into her past when she recognizes a stolen book, "The Book of Lost Names," that a German librarian is trying to restore to its rightful owner. In 1942, she and her mother fled from Paris to a small hidden village on the Swiss border after the arrest of her beloved father. She learns the intricate art of forging false identification documents for Jewish children and others and meets and falls in love with a fellow Christian forger, Rémy.

It is a well written, interesting and entertaining book filled with some wonderful characters. However, I found Eva's mother with her constant negativity annoying, irritating and ungrateful rather proud of her daughter's dedication in forging documents and transporting Jewish children to safety. The book follows the current pattern as seen in so many recent novels, alternating the past and present, tying the two together, this one is done very well. The ending, while predictable and touching, seemed to be rushed to within the last few pages and needed include more details such as what happened to the four children Eva and Rémy accompanied to the Swiss border.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by LinZ
The courage of ordinary people.
I was as impressed that Eva was so willing to help forge documents so that Jewish children could escape to Switzerland. She put her needs and that of her mother's aside to help in that effort. It's good to know there are so many selfless people in the world! Although I did find Eva's mother annoying. I think it was realistic for how people were in denial of what the Nazis were capable of. She was not interested in rescuing the children and her thoughtless comments often put Eva in danger. She was blind to what was going on around her. I wondered how many of our parents and grandparents hid stories about the war from us as they were too painful to recall. I gave this a 4 and not a 5 because I did not like the ending. It was too much like a Hallmark movie, and a little hard to believe. But I did enjoy the story.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Amy Ashe
Ultimately disappointing
This book was engrossing because of its information regarding forgeries during WW II, but I was ultimately disappointed on two aspects of the book. First, as a Jewish reader, I was taken aback by some lack of knowledge concerning Jewish customs (ie, Jews don’t kneel for prayer and Hanukkah - the only Jewish holiday mentioned - is a minor holiday especially in Europe at that time period). Also, I was a bit taken aback that the informer—spoiler alert—-was Jewish, but not Jewish enough for the Nazis to arrest since he wasn’t 100 Jewish; the Nazis considered a person Jewish if one grandparent was a Jew.
My other disappointment concerned the plot. The odds of two 85 year old people being both physically and mentally healthy - and reuniting after so many years - is astronomical, but I’ll go along with the romance aspect. What was really missing was any mention of the children, whose real names were carefully recorded in the clever code, after the war. Was any effort made to track down these kids? Or to reunite them with family? Yes, I know the names were sent to Yad V’Shem in Jerusalem, but considering the novel’s title is The Book of Lost Names, surely more attention could have been paid to this aspect.
I was sorry I spent money on this novel.

Kristin grew up in Peabody, Mass.; Worthington, Ohio; and St. Petersburg, Fla., and she graduated with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida. After spending time living in Paris, she now lives in Orlando, Fla., with her husband and young son.

Kristin Harmel is the international bestselling author of The Room on Rue Amélie and The Sweetness of Forgetting, along with several other novels. Her work has been featured in People, Woman's Day, Men's Health, Runner's World, and Ladies' Home Journal, among many other media outlets.

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