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The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

By Linda Ulleseit
May 7, 2021

This novel opens in the present, with Eva, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, sees a picture in a newspaper of a book she knows well but hasn’t seen in six decades. Despite the misgivings of her family, Eva travels to Berlin to recover her book. In the course of her journey, the reader learns the importance of this book, The Book of Lost Names.

In 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after her father, a Polish Jew, was arrested. She and her mother end up in a small mountain town near the Swiss border. Eva is a graduate student with a great deal of artistic talent, and she quickly becomes involved with forging identity documents for escaping Jewish children. She also gets involved with Remy, a handsome forger with his own mysterious past. Eva devises a code to keep records of the children’s true names, and keeps it in The Book of Lost Names. When the resistance cell she works for is compromised, and Remy disappears, Eva’s book becomes even more important.

The setting of World War II and the resistance in France is compelling, but the world of the document forgers is a new glimpse into the bravery of normal people. The forging of documents is more important than the romance in this novel, and that works because it’s such a fascinating topic. Of course millions of fake documents were created, but I’d never thought about how it was done or by whom. This book shows that no matter how many novels are written about World War II, there is always a fresh look from a new point of view.

The Book of Lost Names is not a true dual timeline novel since most of it occurs in the past. The brief sections that show the elderly Eva returning to Berlin to claim her book are almost sad. Her son thinks only of the impossibility of his mother making such a trip. He has no idea what part she played in the war. My own father-in-law has given us mere glimpses of the time he spent in a Nazi camp, of the escape from that camp, and of the time he spent on the run as a teen. It’s difficult for an adult child to appreciate their parent’s youth, especially if the parent doesn’t want to discuss it. 

The notion of a book of lost names to keep track of identities reminds me of the current situation of immigrant children at the U.S. border. These children have been separated from their families with no paperwork to reconnect them. How wonderful if someone like Eva existed to make a book of lost names for them!

The Book of Lost Names is a well written novel with complex characters and well-researched setting. Highly recommended.

Linda Ulleseit
Written by Linda Ulleseit

Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).

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