Kristin Harmel, in her poignant and brutally realistic fictional tale The Book of Lost Names, shares with her readers the horrific experience of Jews in Nazi occupied France and the unsung heroes who found amazing ways to save countless Jewish children and adults from certain death in the concentration camps.
Sometimes understanding a book is better explained in reading the author’s own words as to why they wrote it. I would like to share Kristin’s explanation for writing The Book of Lost Names as found in the Author’s Notes; while researching her previous novel, The Winemaker’s Wife she encountered references to the the role that forgers, people who used “their artistic and scientific ingenuity to produce convincing documents that allowed innocent people to survive,” played in the Nazi Resistance. A New York Times article about the Nazi looting of books and the fact that many of these stolen books are still in German libraries made her realize that she could “write a novel about forgery, framed by a story about a looted book that meant everything to someone… forgery techniques, Nazi looting… all wrapped up in a story about love, loss, courage, and the highest stakes.”
The true talent of a historical fiction author lies in their insatiable curiosity to investigate and their ability to translate that information into a factual yet fascinating and captivating story. Kristin is such an author. The Book of Lost Names is detailed in facts yet riveting in its storytelling. It literally transports you to the dark time of the Holocaust where you participate in the disbelief, shock and fear that Eva, a French born Jew. experiences. At the cusp of adulthood, Eva should be looking forward to all of the wonders of becoming an adult but is instead thrust into a situation where she becomes responsible for the fates of innumerable innocent lives when she stumbles on Resistance fighters who convince her to help them forge documents. This wonderfully crafted story is told as a flashback; Eva’s elderly self exhumes her past when she learns that the book, which holds the original names (in code) of the children whose identities she changed, still exists. Her decision to travel to Germany to claim the book leads to revisiting the events of her past life under Nazi occupation.
For many, the story of the Holocaust does not have a happily ever after ending. Eva’s story and others in The Book of Lost Names, while filled with heartbreak, is also a testament to the strength, courage, and love that still can exist in the midst of horror and suffering. It is also a reminder that there are those still among us, who may appear to be old and meek, but who posses a wealth of knowledge and experience that will disappear when they are gone. The Lost Book of Names is a fascinating and excellent tribute to unsung heroes of the Holocaust and a must read for all ages.