Book Reviews

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

I actually got an ARC of The Book of Lost Names a while ago, and I never read it. I had started it on a family road trip, and it just wasn’t what I needed to read at that time. My aunt read it recently and told my mom she just had to read it. She got it at Costco, read it, loved it, and gave her copy to me.

The Story

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 NetworkThe 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.

My Thoughts

For the last few years, I have claimed that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. After reading The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, I became obsessed. However, it has been a while since I read a book that qualified. I tend to go with my thrillers or a Christie-like mystery. I know that I will like them. Thus, I was a bit out of sorts when I was reading The Book of Lost Names.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well, at least as much as anyone can enjoy a book about World War II. Reading about the roundups was certainly difficult. However, even harder than that was reading how severely Eva’s mother had turned against her. I can’t even imagine being in their position, being a Jew in the time of Hitler, but turning against your own family? It was just difficult for me.

I really appreciated that Kristin Harmel wrote with such heart. I don’t really know how else to explain it other than the fact that there was a lot of heart in The Book of Lost Names. The ending also warmed my heart exponentially more than I expected (but I am a sucker for love).

The Book of Lost Names will likely stay on my shelves, with my other favorite historical fiction books. I’ll come back to it another day when I need to escape into a story of hope and resilience.

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