By Monique Roy
Star Rating: 4 out of 5
Right from the start you get a real sense of time and place in this book, which opens just as Hitler and the Nazis have come to power in Germany during the 1930s. Monique builds up the pace steadily, introducing the reader to Oskar, a diamond cutter and dealer, his wife Helene, plus his twin daughters Eva and Inge, and their brother Max. From the first few chapters you can feel the foreboding, as the Nazis gradually tighten their grip on political power and then Hitler’s long term plans for the Jews of Europe, are set in horrible, tragic motion.
I have to say that the first half of this book is gripping, beautifully paced and it draws the reader into the era of pre-war Germany extremely well. The historical details are all there, the dialogue rings true and even the descriptions of diamond grading, washing and cutting are spot on. Monique is a writer who paints a vivid, realistic world from the pages of the past and that takes skill and imagination, as well as research.
As the book unfolds, the awful sense of doom never leaves the reader’s mind. We all know – or should – what happened to the Jews in Europe as war broke out in September 1939, and then the Germany army swept across Belgium, France, Norway and many other countries in 1940-41.
The flight from Berlin to Antwerp, then from ruined, war-torn Belgium to France, Spain, Portugal and eventually Rio-de-Janeiro is a roller-coaster of emotions – you hold your breath with each page as you wonder if each member of Oskar’s family will survive. There’s also a blossoming love story, for both Eva and Inge, as an underground network of Jews, and decent people willing to assist, help them escape the concentration camps being constructed across Eastern Europe from `42 onwards.
For me, the book loses a little of its edge and excitement in the second half, but the conclusion to this historical family saga is expertly handled, and any reader who loves books like The Winds of War, Schindler’s List, or The Diary of Anne Frank, will love this epic tale of survival, family bonds, true love and forgiveness.