Heroes in real life don’t wear masks and capes. Sometimes they don’t stand out at all. But real heroes can save a life—or many lives—just by answering the call in their heart. ~Victoria Arlen
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel, is loosely inspired by Adolfo Kaminsky, an Argentinan-Russian Jew who was a member of the French Resistance. Kaminsky specialized in forging identity documents, thereby saving the lives of more than 14,000 Jews.
I say loosely because the book’s main character is a woman named Eva Traube, born in Paris to Polish Jews. The only similarities between the two their religion, their age (early 20s), and avoiding deportation to a concentration camp.
This novel opens with Eva Abrams, an elderly librarian in Florida, reading a magazine article about a book she has not seen in 65 years—the Book of Lost Names.
This book, an 18th-century religious tome stolen from France by the Nazis, contains a handwritten code. However, no one knows who inscribed the code or what it means, no one, that is, except Eva.
Flashback to Paris, 1942: Darkness descends over the City of Light. Nazis are rounding up Paris’ Jewish population, sending them to ghettos and concentration camps. Eva, a graduate student, avoids capture and flees her home and her city, taking refuge in a small town in southern France. While there, she joins the Resistance, using her artistic talents to forge identity documents for Jewish children sneaking into Switzerland. However, Eva is concerned about erasing these children’s pasts, so she decides to record the children’s real names in code so that their true identities are not completely erased; the “Book of Lost Names” is born.
A binge-book at its best, The Book of Lost Names is exceptional, evocative, and engaging and is one of my favorite WWII-era historical fictions of the year.