Reviewed by Christine-Chioma (previously reviewed by Julie)
It's about: During World War II, Athos Roussos, a Greek archaeologist, rescues a young Polish jew, Jakob Beer, after the massacre of Jakob's family. The novel explores the life, losses, and loves of both men. A young Canadian, Ben, whose parents survived the Holocaust, is drawn to Jakob and his life.
I thought: I had a hard time getting into the book, which is surprising because it had elements of things I really enjoy in literature: loss, historical fiction about World War II, memory, loneliness, and well-written prose. I think it's because I never really connected with Jakob's character. I was fascinated by the people surrounding him: Athos, Alex, Michaela, Nikos, Ben and Naomi. But I just could not muster up enough interest in Jakob--but maybe that was his role as the main narrator? At times I found the book to be too dense-- there were a few passages that went over my head by being too poetic. I found the last third of the book to be more fascinating that the first half. I did appreciate the deeper themes and questions that were addresses. The story stayed with me after I read it and helped me ponder more about the human condition.
Verdict: Stick it on the shelf or Rubbish Bin? In-Between. It's definitely worth reading, but I wouldn't personally want to re-read it or own it because I did not love it. But I didn't hate it. It's just in-between.
Reading Recommendations: I'd suggest you try to read it all at once. I read it really slowly and maybe that's why some of the poeticism went over my head and felt too disconnected.
Warnings: It's pretty heavy but nothing too graphic
Favorite excerpts: "But Athos, whether one believes or not has nothing to do with being a Jew. Let me put it this way: the truth doesn't care what we think of it."
It's Hebrew tradition that the forefathers are referred to as "we," not "they." "When we were delivered from Egypt..." This encourages empathy and responsibility to the past, but more important, it collapses time. The Jew is forever leaving Egypt. A good way to teach ethics. If moral choices are eternal, individual actions take on immense significance no matter how small: not for this life only.
There were the few, like Athos who choose to do good at great personal risk; those who never confused objects and humans, who knew the difference between naming and the named. Because the rescuers couldn't lose sight, literally, of the human, again and again they give us the same explanation for their heroism: "What choice did I have?"
What I'm reading next: Something from my classics list.