Author: Ramona Ausubel
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (February 2, 2012)
It’s 1939, and nine Jewish families make up the rainy little village of Zalischik, on the northern edge of Romania. A generation before, their ancestors had settled this peninsula, drawn by its seclusion; after centuries of persecution and exile, they hoped they had finally found a place where they might be forgotten by the outside world, left alone to live out their lives in peace.
But when news that war has broken out reaches their remote hamlet, the villagers are fearful. A neighboring town is bombed, and a strange woman washes up on the shore of Zalischik’s river—miraculously alive, the sole survivor of her town’s decimation. As the stranger tells of the brutal killing of her husband and children, the eradication of her entire town, the villagers, terrified, know they must flee their homes or suffer the same fate. For them, it’s a familiar story; their tribe’s history has always been one of wandering, of being lost, of starting again. But, with the land around them occupied, where can they go, this time? Refusing to give up hope, they decide—at the suggestion of an eleven-year-old girl—to enter the territory of their imagination, and start the world anew. They will forsake the history that has long been their people's enemy, reset the clock, start over from scratch; invent a world for themselves in which they could finally be safe. In the words of the young girl, our narrator: If we wanted to survive in this story, we had to tell it that way.
Jobs are reinvented. Husbands are swapped. The girl, the daughter of a cabbage farmer, is reassigned to new, previously childless, parents. And for years, it seems that the villagers’ plan may be working—as the rest of the continent’s towns and villages are emptied out, the village continues to build its new world in peace.
This is a really interesting book that took a different course than I expected from what I envisioned in my head when I first heard about it. I interpreted the book description to mean that this town moved off in isolation to an unmapped area and remade their lives with the people they had. Instead, these people remain living just as they always did, but stopped traveling to the bigger towns to trade, thereby isolating themselves in a small way, but never actually hiding from the war. As they were trying to tiptoe around the war they decided to change up their lives a bit and several people re-invented themselves. The entire town decided to pretend the world and the war didn't exist. Not exactly the best hiding method I've heard of.
The story is told from they eyes of a young girl, a girl whose entire life ends up being shaped by others. She had very little control over what happened to her - who she is raised by, who she marries, etc. Of course this was a general rule of the times, but in this odd little village where everyone imagines a new life, it becomes twisted.
When the war does finally find them and they discover that they are indeed NOT invisible, the girl flees the town with her children. She loses her husband along the way..... to an Italian solder - now that was an interesting and unexpected twist on things.
This is not a happy book, there are many heart-wrenching events that occur during the years, some that to the dismay of Lena she later learns may not have been necessary occurrences at all.
A different type of story, well written, with quite a bit of Jewish history thrown in at the same time. Any book where you learn a little more is always welcome.