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Reviews of Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner

Once We Were Home

by Jennifer Rosner

Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner X
Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2023, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2024, 288 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

From Jennifer Rosner, National Jewish Book Award Finalist and author of The Yellow Bird Sings, comes a novel based on the true stories of children stolen in the wake of World War II.

Ana will never forget her mother's face when she and her baby brother, Oskar, were sent out of their Polish ghetto and into the arms of a Christian friend. For Oskar, though, their new family is the only one he remembers. When a woman from a Jewish reclamation organization seizes them, believing she has their best interest at heart, Ana sees an opportunity to reconnect with her roots, while Oskar sees only the loss of the home he loves.

Roger grows up in a monastery in France, inventing stories and trading riddles with his best friend in a life of quiet concealment. When a relative seeks to retrieve him, the Church steals him across the Pyrenees before relinquishing him to family in Jerusalem.

Renata, a post-graduate student in archaeology, has spent her life unearthing secrets from the past--except for her own. After her mother's death, Renata's grief is entwined with all the questions her mother left unanswered, including why they fled Germany so quickly when Renata was a little girl.

Two decades later, they are each building lives for themselves, trying to move on from the trauma and loss that haunts them. But as their stories converge in Israel, in unexpected ways, they must each ask where and to whom they truly belong.

Beautifully evocative and tender, filled with both luminosity and anguish, Once We Were Home reveals a little-known history. Based on the true stories of children stolen during wartime, this heart-wrenching novel raises questions of complicity and responsibility, belonging and identity, good intentions and unforeseen consequences, as it confronts what it really means to find home.

1

ROGER

1946

In the hills above Marseille, in the Convent of Sainte Marie de Sion, Roger cups his hot, throbbing ear with one hand and stacks prayer books with the other. Palm flat, patting the edges, he straightens the piles so the books won't tip over and tumble. If they do, he'll get another ear twist or worse. At seven, he knows better than to bother Sister Chantal at lauds—but yesterday he couldn't help it, his ankles itched him to distraction and the question sprang from his mouth: "Why, if God is good, did He create mosquitoes that sting and bite us?"

Roger finishes his stacking, a final pat pat of the books, with the feeling of eyes at his back. He looks around for Sister Chantal—or was it God watching?—before he rushes out the door, ear still pulsing. He wishes he'd stayed quiet, held his question for Sister Brigitte, as she was always encouraging him to do. There is so much he doesn't understand.

Why are some potatoes purple?

Does a tiger's skin have stripes ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the title. What does the phrase "once we were home" mean to you? How does the idea of home shape the four central characters?
  2. With each new chapter, we alternate between the perspectives of Roger, Ana, Oskar, and Renata. How are their worldviews similar and different? Why do you think the author made this narrative choice, and how did it affect your reading experience?
  3. Did you have a favorite main character? If so, why did you connect to them more powerfully?
  4. How is Israel portrayed in the novel? Did anything about its characterization surprise you? What does Israel represent for each of the main characters?
  5. How did you interpret the short, italicized sections of the novel told from the perspective of the nesting doll? ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Beautiful, beautiful prose...this book is a treasure. The author credits her readers with the ability to follow a complicated plot as she tells the story of children displaced and stolen after WWII. This is a book to read and re-read, feeling privileged and impressed each time by the beauty of the writing (Jean B). Another beautiful, beautiful but heartbreaking-to-the-core read based on true events … Historical fiction fans will devour this marvelously written, impeccably researched read (Elizabeth P)...continued

Full Review (670 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Historical Novels Society
Rosner's novel reflects personal interviews and in-depth research...She illuminates the complex and opposing political and religious viewpoints...Rosner's heart-wrenching revelations in Once We Were Home will persist in readers' minds for seasons to come.

Booklist
[A] complex tale about fear, survival, and what it means to be a family.

Kirkus Reviews
A carefully crafted and heartbreaking book.

Library Journal
Readers familiar with The Yellow Bird Sings will learn more about the characters in that book here. An excellent addition to historical fiction collections.

Publishers Weekly
Rosner wrings a great deal of emotion from the various portraits, and she does an admirable job of exploring the characters' conflicted loyalties. Fans of Jewish historical fiction will be moved.

Author Blurb Alka Joshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Henna Artist, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur and The Perfumist of Paris
Under Rosner's talented pen, simple prose turns into poetry and ordinary stories become complex, poignant. I found this forgotten history of displaced WWII children and the return to their roots captivating, thought-provoking, enlightening, and bittersweet.

Author Blurb Helen Fremont, national bestselling author of The Escape Artist
A spell-binding tapestry, with countless twists, turns, and stunning revelations along the way. Rosner's ability to conjure the hearts and minds of these children is nothing short of miraculous; it's impossible not to fall in love with them, and even harder to let them go at the end of the book.

Author Blurb Jai Chakrabarti, National Jewish Book Award winning author of A Play for the End of the World
Rosner's new novel is about the ways we seek family despite the wounds we carry. The stories of her characters fit beautifully together like nesting boxes, building to become an ode to love in its many forms. A brave and ultimately life-affirming book.

Author Blurb Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Forest of Vanishing Stars
Lush, transportive, and heartbreaking. The poetic Rosner is a gifted storyteller, and here, she asks us to consider the true meaning of home and family in a world turned upside down. Astonishing in both its detail and its lyricism, and thrilling in its scope, Once We Were Home soars.

Author Blurb Lauren Fox, New York Times bestselling author of Send For Me
Once We Were Home is the rarest literary bird: breathlessly tense and gorgeously lyrical at the same time (that sweet spot most authors can only dream of!). Rosner immerses her reader in a world full of loss, longing, and mystery, and all the while her ear is tuned to the music of language. I'm in awe of this beautiful novel.

Author Blurb Lisa Scottoline, #1 bestselling author of What Happened to the Bennetts and Eternal
Poignant, moving, and unforgettable...Rosner is one of my favorite authors, and she writes with the pen and heart of a poet. Rosner enlightens us about a little-known but vital part of world history, and at the same time uplifts us with how this foursome grows to adulthood, claims their identity, and finds love and family of their own.

Author Blurb Meg Waite Clayton, internationally bestselling author of The Postmistress of Paris and The Last Train to London
Utterly gorgeous! This lyrical story of lives in the aftermath of war and displacement breaks our hearts, and mends them back into a stronger love.

Author Blurb Natalie Jenner, internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls
Rarely have I read such subtle and precise prose, and rarely have I been more moved. One turns the final page with tears of happiness and satisfaction, but above all, with a new appreciation for our unknowable connections, our shared humanity, and our universal desire for home.

Reader Reviews

BookwormBecky

BookwormBecky - Stunning!
Displaced, conceal, protect… No goodbyes… Roger, Ana, Oskar, and Renata’s stories merge in Israel, post-war. All were removed or stolen during wartime and relocated . Roger was placed at 3yo in a French monastery . He has been baptized ...   Read More
Elizabeth @Silver's Reviews

Elizabeth @Silver's ReviewsFantastic...don't miss this one!!
Beautifully told in her mesmerizing style, Jennifer Rosner introduces us to four characters who suffered through the war and beyond. We meet Ana and Oskar whose mother had to give her children to a Polish family who would raise them as their own ...   Read More
Mitzi K. (Cumming, GA)

Heartbreakingly Beautiful Story
Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner is the thoughtful and heartbreakingly beautiful story of displaced children in Europe following WW2 and their struggle to find what was stolen from them—identity, family, and a sense of belonging. The book focuses...   Read More
Melinda J. (East Hampton, CT)

Once We Were Home review
"Once We Were Home" by Jennifer Rosner made me sit back and savor the words and ache for the characters who were stolen or placed with strangers or mere acquaintance to save them from sure death. The intention was good, but the trauma it caused these...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Adult Novels Focusing On Children During World War II

Unsurprisingly, stories featuring the circumstances of child or teenage protagonists during World War II tend to appear prominently in the category of young adult literature, with classics like Lois Lowry's Number the Stars existing as staples of historical fiction in schools and libraries all over. But as is the case with Jennifer Rosner's Once We Were Home, which follows grown-up characters reckoning with how they were displaced away from their Jewish families during the Holocaust, some books written for adults also center the specific viewpoints of those who experienced the war as children. Below are just a few.

Cover image for The Yellow Bird Sings The Yellow Bird Sings, Jennifer Rosner's debut, features the perspectives of a Polish Jewish mother named Róza and ...

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Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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