Bookstores have always been one of my favorite places. Even when I’m pressed for time, or just dashing in for a card, I can’t resist the lure of the bookshelves…checking to see if by chance, one of my favorite authors might just have a new jewel out… Because once I find an author I love, I’m hooked.
As a kid, I inhaled stories by Carolyn Keene, Enid Blyton and other fun mystery writers…advanced to every Beany Malone or Katie Rose book I could find by Lenora Mattingly Weber…and fell in love with the classics like Dickens, The Brontes, Harper Lee and more. In every case, the characters became so real to me that I’d continue to imagine their lives long after the last word on the last page. Like long lost friends, I still return to some childhood favorites…writers who inspired my own dreams of finding a way with words and forever charm me with their timeless wordglow.
These days it’s the novelists who weave a poetic richness into their stories who keep me coming back for more. Rosamunde Pilcher. Linda Nichols. Ann Tatlock. Elizabeth Musser. And when I come across characters so real that I find myself thinking of them when I’ve put the book down…wanting their stories to go on and on…well, those are treasures rare.
Book in Review: While We’re Far Apart, by Lynn Austin Lynn Austin book photo*********************************
Sometimes a writer leaves you smoothing away tears at each chapter, simply in awe at the beauty of the story. Lynn Austin, with her While We’re Far Apart, is one of those.
As an historical novelist, Austin sweeps you into places of another time, taking her reader into the hearts of her characters so deftly, they become your people. Friends you might have known growing up and called aunt or uncle simply because they shared intimate life with yours, even as family. The people of her latest novel could have been any one of the friends my mom knew in her 1940’s childhood. They are like so many of those I remember around our dinner table in the 60’s too. A tender, heartwarming story of hope against all odds, this book simply shines.
Set in 1943 Brooklyn, While We’re Far Apart opens upon four such characters: Esther, 12, and her little brother Peter, who have recently lost their mother to a tragic accident and are about to lose their grieving father to WWII enlistment; their resented guardian-to-be, Penny, a sheltered and lonely young woman raised to be afraid of her own shadow but longing for the genuine love of family; and Jacob, their elderly landlord, self-isolated and bitterly grieving the death of his own wife, the uncertainty of his son’s safety in Nazi-occupied Hungary, and his growing anger at – but longing for – the God he no longer understands. Their story begins out of heartache…then lifts to enduring hope, word by light-filled word.
From the first scene, I found myself engrossed in these characters and their lives, longing for Esther and Peter to see the love reaching out to them, misting up at the pain Jacob suffers and his struggle for faith, encouraging Penny to reach out and grow, urging them all to solve mysteries holding them back, understanding their doubts and cheering them on to hope. In one way or another, I could identify with each of their dreams and the healing touch of music in their lives. Austin has drawn them more than true-to-life and used history to paint authenticity into each scene.
Thrown together at a time not so unlike ours, the children, Penny and Jacob discover the hope-giving thought that God may just be moving “behind the scenes’ in ways they cannot see… As the reader in 2010, we now know some of those ways, such as the many good people who helped to save hundreds and thousands of near-Holocaust victims. But to those living here in 1940′s America, hearing limited reports on radio, they could only hope and pray. In a pivotal and moving scene, Austin’s characters begin to see how, like Esther in the Bible, God may have brought them together for such a time as this. And it makes all the difference.
Austin deftly explores each character with honesty and truth, lighting candles of hope in all their hearts (as well as the reader’s). Along the way, she weaves in side characters to infuse color, a touch of romance, mystery and warmth, and deeply moves us when including the true story of Raoul Wallenberg, a 32 year-old Swedish businessman who is thought to have saved as many as 100,000 Budapest Jews from the Nazis.
Although I could predict a few of the outcomes, I found myself looking forward to the time when the characters themselves would see. And rejoicing with them when they did.
From chapter to chapter, I didn’t want their story lives to end. Reluctantly closing the book, I find they stay in my mind, like people I know and care about, and I can’t help thinking…I wish for a sequel. This book is certain to be a classic in my personal library… one to read and cherish again.
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