(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Despite Kläre Ente Kohler's Jewish ancestry, she's never been a particularly devoted practitioner of Judaism. Her Jewishness exists mainly in fond memories of sumptuous Sabbath dinners with her extended family at her grandparents' luxurious home. As an adult, her connection to the Jewish community has been tenuous at best. With the Nazis rising to power in her homeland, however, Kläre has reason to worry. All around her, Jewish businesses are being ransacked, their proprietors beaten in the streets. The worse things get, the more terrified she becomes. Many Jews are fleeing Germany. Kläre knows her ailing husband and elderly mother can't make such an arduous journey, even if they did have visas. But what of her two sons? Can she find a way to keep them safe? Unable to leave, Kläre must do what she can to help her children, her friends, and herself stay alive. With Nazi brutality against the Jews growing more deadly every day, that will not be an easy task. It will take every ounce of strength, courage, and tenacity Kläre possesses just to survive.
Having grown up hearing dramatic tales about her grandfather's family's former lives in Europe, Barbara Stark-Nemon became especially fascinated by the experiences of her great aunt, Kläre. Her debut novel, Even in Darkness, is based on the life of this indomitable Jewess who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, after which she spent many years as the unlikely companion to a much younger Catholic priest. While Kläre's war story is (unfortunately) not all that unique, it definitely has potential to be the stuff of good fiction. Unfortunately, Stark-Nemon bogs the story down with so much extraneous detail that the action in the novel feels anticlimactic and dull. The characters never felt real to me, so I had trouble immersing myself in their conflicts. Lacking a real plot, Even in Darkness seems aimless and unstructured. While I appreciated Stark-Nemon's quietly assured prose, I also longed for more dynamic storytelling. For me, Even in Darkness has the stiffer, more distancing feel of non-fiction instead of the enveloping warmth of a well-constructed novel. Overall, then, this was a plodding, difficult read for me. I enjoyed the book's message (beauty and love can be found even in the ugliness of war), but found the novel itself not to be my particular cup of tea.
(Readalikes: Reminded me of other WWII novels, although no specific title comes to mind)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (no F-bombs), violence and some sexual content
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Even in Darkness from the generous folks at PR By the Book. Thank you!