The Book of Lost Names

by Kristin Harmel

“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 time for him to learn that his mother isn’t the person he always believed her to be.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: A

The Book of Lost Names had me hooked from the very start. Not only is the book’s main character a librarian with a secret, but the sweeping writing told the story of a woman who changed a multitude of lives in the past and now was struggling to be seen as an individual with a rich history. The beautiful way in which this book blends the past and modern times kept me engaged the whole time – Eva repeatedly transforms into a woman who must take risks to defend what is right and protect those she loves.

Eva was not the only captivating character – each character came to life on the pages and while there were many times when I didn’t know if the character was friend or foe, I so appreciated the realistic tumult that surrounded Eva’s decisions and her very life as a refugee from Paris. The Book of Lost Names is a perfect example of historical fiction that appeals to fans of books like The Book Thief or Harmel’s previous work, The Winemaker’s Wife. It in no way glorifies the ordeals with which so many individuals struggled on a daily basis, but it does not diminish the many challenges that ordinary citizens faced, and shines a light on how average people who feared for their own safety and security were often the only resource for those trying to escape Nazi tyranny.

I so appreciated the plot, characters, and general feeling of this book. It beautifully captured Eva as a young woman and an older widow and made for a rich reading experience.

Movie Rating: PG-13

The Book of Lost Names deals with some challenging obstacles, but Harmel does a lovely job telling the story – and conveying the inherent drama – without adding foul language or steamy scenes. There are indeed dark moments when beloved characters are savagely attacked and threats are made. These are handled with insight, however, and do not glorify the gore or disturbing nature of the situation.

This book is indeed an adult-crossover book, so there is an expectation of maturity on the part of readers, but it is written with a keen awareness of the challenges that war-torn Europe presented to Jews and Jewish sympathizers. Situations are not made glossy and bright when they would have been dark in reality, but they are not exaggerated in a way that makes this book to overwhelming for teen readers. Rather, it is a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit, realistic and well-researched, historical fiction book that is well worth diving into.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Yes

I am so excited to add this to my school library collection. While it won’t be the perfect book for every one of my students, it will be a real treat for students who are fans of historical fiction. This female-driven novel features a strong protagonist who is compassionate, insightful, and talented; this combined with the lovely cover will make this a book that I am confident my historical fiction fans will be drawn to.

Summary:

Eva Traube Abrams may appear to be a little old librarian – she has worked hard to establish a normal life for herself years after the end of World War II. When she glances at the newspaper one day, she sees a picture that takes her back to war-torn Europe and reminds her of who she used to be. With little regard for what it might mean, she flies to Germany, determined to look at what she dubbed “the book of lost names” and glimpse part of a past that is not known of by anyone else alive. Thus begins the sweeping tale of The Book of Lost Names.

Told in alternating perspectives – Eva’s present and her past – this book is lushly described with vivid characters who must work to survive, and often make sacrifices so that others can escape the tyranny of the Nazi regime. Eva has her loyalties tested and her motives questioned, and finds herself at odds with those she believed that she was closest to. With hints of romance and drama, this beautifully rendered historical fiction novel will keep you guessing what happens next and who can be trusted.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. Why has Eva never told her son about her past? What fears might she have about revealing the truth?
  2. What does Eva’s mother accuse her of? Do you believe that this is true? Explain your thinking and give an example from the book to support this.
  3. What is the code in the book? What is the purpose of the book? Why is this so important to Eva?
  4. Who is the individual who is revealing the identities of the hidden Jews? Why is this particularly crushing? How does this play out in Eva’s own life?
  5. What does Eva expect to find when she goes to see the book? What unexpected thing does she also find?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel
  • A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
  • All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams

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