The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

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The Book of Lost Names
The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel

Paperback (25 May 2021), 400 pages.
Publisher: Gallery Books
ISBN-13: 9781982131906
Genres
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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.

Chapter One
May 2005

It's a Saturday morning, and I'm midway through my shift at the Winter Park Public Library when I see it.

The book I last laid eyes on more than six decades ago.

The book I believed had vanished forever.

The book that meant everything to me.

It's staring out at me from a photograph in the New York Times, which someone has left open on the returns desk. The world goes silent as I reach for the newspaper, my hand trembling nearly as much as it did the last time I held the book. "It can't be," I whisper.

I gaze at the picture. A man in his seventies looks back at me, his snowy hair sparse and wispy, his eyes froglike behind bulbous glasses.

"Sixty Years After End of World War II, German Librarian Seeks to Reunite Looted Books with Rightful Owners," declares the headline, and I want to cry out to the man in the image that I am the rightful owner of the book he's holding, the faded leather-bound volume with the peeling bottom right corner and the gilded spine bearing the title Epitres et Evangiles. It belongs to me—and to Rémy, a man who died long ago, a man I vowed after the war to think of no more.

But he's been in my thoughts this week anyhow, despite my best efforts. Tomorrow, the eighth of May, the world will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. It's impossible, with all the young newscasters speaking solemnly of the war as if they could conceivably understand it, not to think of Rémy, not to think of the time we spent together then, not to think of the people we saved and the way it all ended. Though my son tells me I'm blessed to have such a sharp mind in my old age, like many blessings this one is mixed.

Most days, I just long to forget.

I blink away the uninvited thoughts of Rémy and return my attention to the article. The man in the photo is Otto Kühn, a librarian from the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek in Berlin, who has made it his life's mission to return books looted by the Nazis. There are apparently more than a million such books in his library's collection alone, but the one he's holding in the photo—my book—is the one he says keeps him up at night.

"This religious text," Kühn has told the reporter, "is my favorite among the many mysteries that occupy our shelves. Published in Paris in 1732, it's a very rare book, but that's not what makes it extraordinary. It is unique because within it, we find an intriguing puzzle: some sort of code. To whom did it belong? What does the code mean? How did the Germans come to possess it during the war? These are the questions that haunt me."

I feel tears in my eyes, tears that have no place there. I wipe them away, angry at myself for still being so emotional after all these years. "How nice it must be," I say softly to Kühn's picture, "to be haunted by questions rather than ghosts."

"Um, Mrs. Abrams? Are you talking to that newspaper?"

I'm jolted out of the fog of my memory by the voice of Jenny Fish, the library's assistant manager. She's the type who complains about everything—and who seems to enjoy suggesting at every opportunity that since I'm eighty-six, I might want to think about retiring soon. She is always eyeing me suspiciously, as if she simply cannot believe that at my age, I'd still want to work here.

She doesn't understand what it means to love books so passionately that you would die without them, that you would simply stop breathing, stop existing. It is quite beyond me, in fact, why she became a librarian in the first place.

"Yes, Jenny, indeed I am," I reply, without looking up.

"Yes, well, you probably shouldn't be doing that in front of library guests." She says it without a trace of irony. "They might think you're senile." She does not have a sense of humor.

Full Excerpt

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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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. On page 16, Mamusia tells Eva, "If we shrink from them, if we lose our goodness, we let them erase us. We cannot do that, Eva. We cannot." Compare her stance here with how she behaves in Aurignon, after Tatuś is taken by the Germans. How does her outlook change? Rereading this and knowing that Mamusia felt this way before tragedy struck, how do your opinions of her 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. The beginning of Eva's nightmare falls on the night her father is taken away and she is forced to watch it happen in silence. Do you think she did the right thing by keeping quiet, or should she have done more to try to save him? What do you think you would have done in this situation? What did Eva's decision reveal about her character and what she might accomplish later in the novel?
  3. Eva has to risk her and her mother's safety on numerous occasions by trusting others. Discuss the many characters Eva and Mamusia trusted to keep their secrets. Was any of this trust misplaced? Were there any red flags about those they should not have trusted?
  4. What does the selflessness present in so many in Aurignon say about the promise of the human capacity for goodness in times of crisis?
  5. On page 117, Eva watches officers walking around unbothered in Drancy and thinks to herself, "Could they all be that evil? Or had they discovered a switch within themselves that allowed them to turn off their civility? Did they go home to their wives at night and simply flip the switches back on, become human once more?" What do you think of her questions? In wartime, do you think those who don't fight for what is right are evil? Do you think they can become immune to atrocities? Discuss.
  6. 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? Do you think there is a right way or a wrong way to react to such news? Why? Which reaction do you think would be most beneficial in helping someone get through a war?
  7. On page 165, Eva says, "I've always thought that it's those children—the ones who realize that books are magic—who will have the brightest lives." How did Eva's love of books help her throughout different points in the story? Discuss with your group your favorite books as children. When did you first realize the power of books? What book made you fall in love with reading? Do you think your life would be different if you hadn't found the joy of reading?
  8. On page 166, Eva thinks to herself, "Parents make all sorts of errors, because our ability to raise our children is always colored by the lives we've lived before they came along." How do you think Eva's past affected the way she raised her son? How do you think children of Jewish parents who survived World War II are affected by their parents' pasts? Do you think it's possible for their parents' trauma and/or resilience to be passed down to them?
  9. Mamusia feels as if Eva is abandoning her. She also tells Eva that she is being brainwashed and has forgotten who she is as she erases Jewish children's names and attends masses. Do you think Mamusia is justified in feeling betrayed by Eva? Did you feel sympathetic toward Mamusia as she was left behind in Madame Barbier's boardinghouse, 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?
  10. On page 204, Père Clément says, "The path of life is darkest when we choose to walk it alone." Do you agree that this statement is true in all situations? Discuss the moments in the novel when Eva decides to go it alone and compare them to the moments when she trusts others with her secrets, her wants, and her fears. Do you think the moments she decided to work alone would have been easier if she had a partner, or do you think that would have only increased her stress? What about the moments she opened up to others—would she have been better off keeping to herself?
  11. Were you surprised to find out that Joseph was the one who betrayed the forgery network? Were there any red flags? Why do you think the author decided Joseph would be the traitor? What would you have done in Joseph's position?
  12. Was moving on and trying to forget Rémy the right decision for Eva, or do you believe that she should have waited even longer to make sure that Rémy hadn't survived? Discuss with your group the pros and cons of each choice. Did Tatuś give Eva sound advice in telling her to start living her own life? Would you have moved to the United States with Louis even if you knew you would never love him like you did Rémy?
  13. Eva believed that Rémy went to his grave not knowing how she felt about him because she told him she couldn't marry him. Do you think Rémy ever thought that Eva had given up on him when he waited for her on the library steps and she never showed? If they had ended up finding each other before they both moved on to live separate lives, do you think they would have made it as a couple? Why or why not?
  14. On page 370, Eva says, "We aren't defined by the names we carry or the religion we practice, or the nation whose flag flies over our heads. I know that now. We're defined by who we are in our hearts, who we choose to be on this earth." 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 and judged only by what is in their hearts and what they choose to do?
  15. Why do you think Eva kept her past from her son? Do you think she was embarrassed or still felt guilty about anything? Do you think it was a coping mechanism and a way for her to move on? Discuss with your group.
  16. In her author's note, on page 384, Kristin Harmel says, "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." Discuss this as a group and share with your book club those people—either famous or not—who you believe best exemplify this sentiment.
Enhance Your Book Club
  1. Buy special paper and art pens, look up photos of French papers from World War II, and try your hand at forgery. See if anyone in your book club would have enough talent to fool the French and German soldiers.
  2. Have each member of your book club come to your meeting with books of their own that they are willing to write in to send each other messages—or ask each other questions—employing the Fibonacci sequence and code that Eva and Rémy used to record the birth names and fake names of the children for whom they made papers.
  3. In the author's note, the author makes mention of the many books she read as research for The Book of Lost Names. As a group, choose one of her inspirations as your next book club pick, such as Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger's Life by Sarah Kaminsky, A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose, or The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell. Then compare the characters in your book choice with the characters in The Book of Lost Names.

 

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Gallery Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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.
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?
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
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 ... - 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?
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 ... - 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.”
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&... - 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?
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 ... - 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?
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, ... - 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?
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 ... - 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?
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 ... - 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?
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), ... - 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?
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 ... - 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?
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?
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?
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 ... - 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?
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 ... - Gabi

Opening Pages
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)
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... - gaylamath

Was any of Eva's trust misplaced? Were there any red flags about those they should not have trusted?
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 ... - Patricia Ann

Was anyone able to figure out the code they used?
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?
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?
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 ... - 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?
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... - 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?
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)
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 ... - cynthial

Who underestimates Eva? Have you felt there are those who’ve underestimated you? If so, who, and in what ways?
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 ... - 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?
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 ... - gaylamath

In this moving work of historical fiction based on real events, a young Polish-French Jewish woman forges identification papers to aid Jews fleeing the Nazis during World War II.

Print Article Publisher's View   

There is certainly no shortage of books set in World War II Europe — from thrillers to family dramas — but even within this crowded setting, The Book of Lost Names stands out thanks to a strong sense of character and a compelling tale of love and survival.

While it doesn't carry the emotional or political weight of Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin or Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Kristin Harmel's novel is tightly written and impressively affecting. The Book of Lost Names tells the story of Eva, a young Jewish Parisian and daughter of Polish migrants, that begins in 1942 and ends in 2005.

The novel flits back and forth between World War II Paris and 2005 Florida, with Eva now well into her eighties. When the titular Book of Lost Names — a book which Eva herself created during the war — turns up in Berlin, the events of this time in her life come rushing back to her.

In 1942, Eva is 23, living with her parents, and studying for her Ph.D. One night, she and her mother are babysitting the neighbor's children when Eva's father is pulled out of their apartment and stolen away by the Nazis. Eva and her mother escape to a quiet French town where Eva works to forge personal papers for those looking to flee into neutral Switzerland. It's here that Eva meets Remy, a fellow member of the resistance.

While The Book of Lost Names is set against the war-torn landscape of Nazi-occupied France and Eva is working as part of the resistance, this is, at its core, a love story — a book about how love can thrive even in the direst of circumstances.

It's also a book about identity. Eva creates new identities for those looking to escape and keeps their old ones safe, encoded within the Book of Lost Names. Her mother no longer knows who she is without her husband, and Eva herself is, in her mother's eyes, is betraying the Jewish faith by falling in with a Catholic boy.

These themes hold together expertly, and the love story that unfolds is a true tearjerker. Every character in the novel is well-rounded and clearly defined, if a little one-dimensional. The plot is a bit reminiscent of a Disney movie, however; the main characters are good people with small interpersonal dramas and there is a looming villainous presence. Nothing here is narratively complicated or heavy, even given the wartime setting and high political stakes.

There are also a frustrating number of contrivances, with things falling into place a little too effortlessly. More than once, a challenge will rise up, only for a character to suddenly appear, equipped with the exact skillset to meet and defeat it. One other small bugbear is the fact that the present-day chapters are written in the first person while the flashbacks are in the third person. Narratively, I felt it would have made more sense for it to be reversed, with present-day Eva telling her own story of the past in the first person, thus creating a greater sense of intimacy with both the present and past versions of her character.

Despite these gripes, The Book of Lost Names is a pure kind of novel. It works spectacularly as a love story; its characters are lovable and easy to bond with. The highs and lows all hit hard because of the tight pacing. It flows well from chapter to chapter and from act to act, with every emotional punch landing perfectly. It's not the most thematically or politically deep story — every motif has a spotlight on it and every character is written to be wholly transparent — but everything works in service of an emotionally satisfying story of familial and romantic love in a time of war.

Reviewed by Will Heath

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

Booklist
Harmel's previous historical novels, including The Winemaker's Wife, 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

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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.

Author Blurb Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday
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.

Author Blurb Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
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.

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.

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Real-Life Forgers of World War II

Adolfo and Sarah Kaminsky looking at photographsWhile Eva, the gifted young Jewish forger in Kristin Harmel's The Book of Lost Names, may be a fictional character, the work she did and the risks she took were realities during World War II. Two of the more notable forgers — heroes who saved hundreds of Jewish lives — were Adolfo Kaminsky (1925-) and Alice Cohn (1914-2000).

Adolfo Kaminsky's story is a fascinating one. A Jew living in occupied France, Kaminsky joined the French Resistance as a forger at age 17. It is estimated that he and his fellow Resistance members saved the lives of 14,000 Jewish people using forged documents. As his biography (written by his daughter Sarah) chronicles, Kaminsky didn't stop at the end of the war. He continued to support causes all over the world with his forgery skills, from the Algerian independence movement to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. He also forged documents for Americans seeking to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.

In an interview with CBS News, Kaminsky characterizes his work rescuing Jews with forged documents as "racing against death." Much like Eva's resistance group does in The Book of Lost Names, Kaminsky's group prioritized the safety of Jewish children first, forging thousands of documents by changing Jewish-sounding names to more decidedly French ones.

Unlike Eva, who does all of her work in a sleepy French town away from the watchful eye of the Nazis, Kaminsky worked right under the Nazis' noses in an attic space in central Paris, only a few city blocks away from Notre Dame Cathedral. The neighbors believed they were painters using the attic as a studio space.

In the novel, the special relationship between the German and Argentine governments is explored. This is historically accurate; Jews of Argentine citizenship were exempt from being sent to concentration camps (thanks to an agreement between Nazi Germany and neutral Argentina), and this features in a key plot thread in The Book of Lost Names. Adolfo Kaminsky's parents were arrested and sent to a camp near Paris but were soon released when it was discovered that they were Argentinian citizens.

The German Jewish artist Alice Cohn saved the lives of approximately 350 Jewish children while working as a forger with a resistance group known as the Utrecht Children's Committee, based in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Cohn fled Germany for the Netherlands at the start of the war and ended up hiding in a Utrecht attic when the Germans invaded and occupied the country. Dutch IDs were very detailed and difficult to copy, but Cohn put her skills as a graphic artist to work to craft meticulous forgeries. The tools she used to create them, along with other personal effects, are now on display at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam.

Adolfo Kaminsky was the subject of a 2016 documentary by the New York Times, which you can watch below. In addition to writing a book about her father, Sarah Kominsky has given a popular TED Talk about his work.

Adolfo and Sarah Kaminsky, courtesy of The Vale Magazine

Filed under People, Eras & Events

By Will Heath

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