The Lost Wife
They meet at the wedding of his grandson and her granddaughter. They are both in their 80s now. There is something about her that seems familiar to him. He approaches her and asks if she remembers him. She doesn’t. He takes her arm and turns it over. He sees the number stamped above her wrist. His doubts disappear and eventually she recognizes him too.
This is the beginning of Alyson Richman’s A Lost Wife. The tale quickly shifts to Prague as the Nazis are about to invade Czechoslovakia. We are introduced to two Jewish families and their children. Joseph, the son of one and Lenka, the daughter of the other fall deeply in love. They marry and are immediately confronted with a dilemma.
Joseph’s father is only able to obtain exit visas his family and for Lenka, but not the rest of her family. Joseph is torn: should he leave with his family?
Lenka is even more torn: should she escape with Joseph and leave her parents and sister to try to get by in their Nazi occupied country? She considers the choice “terribly unfair.”
Lenka refuses to leave without her family, but Joseph departs on a ship bound for New York. The ship is torpeodoed and only Joseph of his family survives, although Lenka, after reading about the disaster, assumes he too had drowned.
Soon thereafter Lenka and her family were rounded up by the Nazis and taken to Terezin, a special camp the Germans created to fool the world into believing the Jews were treated well in the camps. Not long after, Lenka and her family were shipped east to Auschwitz, hardly a show camp.
There was also severe hunger in Terezin, illness, overcrowding, diseases that spread rapidly, exhaustion from the long days of working at aimless tasks.
Lenka survived as result of her artistic skills. In spite of appalling conditions in the camp, she somehow managed to create art. She was assigned to a group painting postcards sold to the German people or draw expansion plans for the camp. The rest of her family perished.
"But why, I wondered were we working—and working so hard—for an army whose objective was to corral us into a ghetto of disease and starvation. Where was the resistance?"
The Nazis fled the camp as the Russian army approached and Lenka managed to stumble out, starved, frail and barely able to walk. She was discovered in the woods by an American solder and taken to a displaced person’s camp.
They were married a few years latter; Joseph, a successful obstetrician, also married a woman he met in New York. And then, at the turn of the century, both of their second spouses having died, they met by chance again at the marriage of two of their grandchildren, whereupon the novel ends.
The Lost Wife was not a book I intended to read or even considered, but rather one left by someone at the check out counter of a bookstore I often frequent. I looked at the book, read the cover that proclaimed it was the “Sophie’s Choice of this generation,” and added it to my purchases.
“Sophie’s Choice of this generation?” I doubt it will be translated to the screen.