The Lost Wife

by Alyson Richman

Book, 2011



Call number




New York : Berkley Books, 2011.


During the last moments of calm in prewar Prague, Lenka, a young art student, and Josef, who is studying medicine, fall in love. With the promise of a better future, they marry--only to have their dreams shattered by the imminent Nazi invasion. Like so many others, they are torn apart by the currents of war.

User reviews

LibraryThing member suesbooks
I found this book very enlightening, as I learned much regarding life in Terezin. Since the protagonist was an artist, her descriptions were valuable. I cared about the characters, but I was not overly impressed with the writing, which I found very basic.
LibraryThing member jakesam
One of the best books I have read in awhile, A very fast read , of course I could not put it down. The first chapter tells it all, but what a story.
LibraryThing member kiwifortyniner
This is the story of Josef and Lenka who meet in Prague before the war, fall in love and marry, but then because of the war they are torn apart . The book begins with the moment when they meet again in America some sixty years later. They have never forgotten each other. The book then tells the
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story of their separate lives over the intervening years. Josef becomes a successful obstetrician in America and marries and has a child. He is sure that Lenka is dead. But Lenka's story is the story of the concentration camps of Terezin and Auschwitz.. Lenka does survive. Her and others in the camp are using their skills as an artist to create pictures of what life is really like in the camps (secretly) while at the same time doing the work the Germans have given them to do. It is a heartbreaking story, but a story of courage and the resilience of the human spirit. The book is inspired by the stories of several people who did in fact do what the characters in the book did - drawing pictures of what life was really like in the camps to secretly release to the world.
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LibraryThing member kmmt48
A very different Holocaust novel. I did enjoy this book even though it tended to drag in places. It is a love story that is not often found in the sad and intense novels depicting the survival of holocaust victims. it is well worth a read for a differenct perspective during a dark period of the
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world's history.
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LibraryThing member AudrieClifford
This is a beautiful story. It begins with a newly-married couple who have the opportunity to leave Europe just before the Gestapo begins rounding up Jews to be sent to "work camps". The husband is committed to going with his family, but the bride elects to stay with her own family until they too
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can leave. Having lost each other, both Lenka and Josef go on living, but their love never dies. An interesting part of the presentation is that most of Lenka's story is told by her as a young woman, while most of Josef's is as the memories of an old man. I would recommend this to anyone.
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LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
In pre-World War II Prague, Lenka and Josef meet and fall in love. Lenka is an art student, and Josef, a medical student, is the brother of Lenka's friend and schoolmate. They meet at a Shabbat dinner at the home of Josef's parents. They keep their relationship secret. By the time they decide to
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marry, the war has started and the Germans have conquered Czechoslovakia. They marry, but are separated by the circumstances of war.

After the war, each is the only surviving member of their families. And they each have good reason to believe that the other has perished. They both end up in New York, marry, and have families. And they each end up losing their spouse. The book actually opens in 2000, as Josef is dressing to attend the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of his beloved grandson. He has met the bride-to-be, but not her family. When he is introduced to the bride's grandmother, he immediately recognizes her as his dear Lenka.

Author Alyson Richman
And then the book begins. It toggles between Prague and New York in the 1940's and the present. The Lost Wife is based on a supposedly true story, and it is a powerful tale. It speaks particularly to the amazing capacity of people to survive and thrive despite witnessing unimaginable heartbreak and horror.

It is often difficult to read about the tragedies of World War II, but it helps that The Lost Wife starts at the end of the story, so we know that at least there is a happy ending. I recommend this book very highly.
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LibraryThing member dianag27
Beautifully written. 'The Lost Wife' is a story about the power love can have on the soul and in the heart. It is about a love so deep and intimate that it provides strength, courage, hope and one which knows no end. It is a love story not only first loves or between husband and wife, but one
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between family, between mother and daughter, father and son, between sisters and brothers.

Alyson Richman has written a story the will capture your heart and allows you to feel the love between Lenka and Josef as well as their pain and loss.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
As a story of 2 characters being re-united, the book was disappointing. As a book about the holocaust, it was educational and a page turner. I did find the style flat. There was a telling or reporting style to the book. I didn't feel the characters. As I had seen in another reader review, it would
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have worked better if more time was devoted to the characters after they reunited. It seemed like the author raced during the last 40 pages to tie up the story. I found the story similar to "The Invisible Bridge" by Julie Orringer but I like that one better. Books about the war are always important and should be read by the younger generations. I just think that there are better books than this one.
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LibraryThing member MarkMeg
In many ways very similar to other fiction books about the Holocaust. It is moving and developed well. The experience is described in such a way that the reader can experience it along with Lenka. Josef and Lenka marry in Prague at the time of Germany's take over of the country. Josef leaves for
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America with his family. Their boat is destroyed, his family doesn't make it but he does. Lenka refuses to leave her family and she placed in Terezin an finally in Aushwitz. They each marry someone else and sixty years later meet when their only grandchildren marry.
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LibraryThing member busyreadin
Excellent love story. Set in Prague during the holocaust it is a story of romantic love as well as love for ones family. Much less depressing than other things I've read with the same background.
LibraryThing member gbelik
This is a story of love in pre-war Prague, the horror of the camps, the sadness of an escape to America that contains the guilt of what others suffer, and the reuniting of the original lovers (at the beginning of the story so its not a spoiler). It was a good read if not a particularly original
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LibraryThing member sweetchuckie
A really well written, haunting, poignant drama/romance. I haven't read a good story like this in a while!
LibraryThing member 2LZ
The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman was such a heartfelt, haunting, thought-provoking story that it was hard to put down. It is a love story that endured the test of time. Josef and Lenka, both Jewish, grew up in Prague to well-off parents. Lenka was an art student and Josef was studying to be a
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doctor. They were young and in love, and despite marrying, World War II tore them apart.

The novel opens in the present, at a wedding, Josef recognizes the grandmother of the bride as his long lost wife who he thought had died in a concentration camp during the war. Amazingly, Josef is the grandfather of the groom and they had never met previously. Lenka believed Josef and his entire family had drowned on their way to America to secure a better, safer life with the plan to get Lenka and her family out of Prague. After failing to obtain enough visas to get both families out, Lenka refused to go with her husband and leave her mother, father and sister behind.

Both Lenka and Josef endured great loss. Lenka suffered great hardship, starvation and cruelty. She experienced anti-semitisim to the point where she wanted to be invisible and disappear. She was forced to live in the Nazi Ghetto Terezin in squalor, in filth, and in the most unsanitary of living conditions.

Josef had to overcome great personal loss. He was a shell of his former self. He moved forward in life, irrevocably broken, and always searching for Lenka.

The story is told from both Lenka's and Josef's perspectives. You find out about each of their stories from their first-hand accounts. The short chapters move the story along smoothly and give the reader a brief respite from the horrors that they faced.

Even during such incredible tragedy, inspiring characters emerged, friendships were made and relationships were forged.

The weakest part of the book was the ending. The reader knows the ending from the very first pages. I wanted more time with these characters once they reunited. The Author's Note at the very end of the novel provides interesting insight into the story.
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LibraryThing member stephanieloves
The Lost Wife is lush with historical detail but doesn't read historical; it reads like the stories your mother used to tell you at bedtime, or a frail, time-worn journal you serendipitously come across in the attic. Embarking on the childhood and golden years of Lenka, the ethereal, maternal
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beauty—in Prague in all its glamor, 1934—this Holocaust novel evokes both the rapturous European lifestyle before the Third Reich, and the horrific and chilling concentration camps of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and Germany during World War II.

A tragic parting of lovers sets the desolate, desperate tone in Lenka and Joseph's individual tales as they each relearn to live during the war; Joseph, struggling to survive without Lenka, and Lenka, struggling just to survive. The book is composed of a beautiful back-and-forth exchange of lives that continued in the aftermath of this separation: the suffering, the dullness, the grayness, the hunger, the emptying. The Lost Wife isn't so much about romance, as it is about love—about lovers who once went wholly, completely right—that withstands the test of time and the brutality that is life.

Lenka is strong and a stubborn character, but I felt way too detached from her. She is the embodiment of how powerful the bonds of blood are, and very admirable in values, but I just couldn't connect with her or her choices. Through her eyes, readers glimpse at the injustices of Terezín and the horrors of Auschwitz, the compassion of a wife, and the duty of a daughter. Joseph is more relatable, but I couldn't stand his one-track mind. He's always loved Lenka, I understand, but how can a human be as static as to say he never loved anyone after her—not even his second wife? Human minds are more complex and open than that, in my opinion; I wish his life after Lenka had been portrayed more colorfully because that would have mystified—totally eternalized—their reunion.

This reunion is what magically brings these interwoven stories full circle. The glimpse of a smooth, white neck. The recollection of those strong, sturdy hands. The familiar glint in the eye. That are all it take for the two lovers to recognize each other—sixty years and several lifetimes after being wrenched apart.

Tastefully and delicately crafted with Alyson Richman's golden words and brimming with historical facets of the prevalent anti-Semitism throughout WWII-era Europe that oughtn't be remembered, but deserves to be exposed, The Lost Wife relays so much significance. Among the penetrating insights, include the sanctuary and solace of art, and of course, music; the danger of propaganda and how even a motherland will go to far lengths to deceive; and the ultimate triumph of a survivor: their story.

Pros: Real, raw characters // Lyrical, moving prose // Gorgeous and scary depiction of life during wartime // At times graphic, at others, tender—both frightening and redolent // Conveys the beauty of memory // Heartwarming true love // Reunion aspect is astonishing // Memories are sensual, lethargic, and dreamy

Cons: Lenka and Joseph are each a bit off... I couldn't sympathize with them completely

Verdict: Eloquent in tone and stirring in message, The Lost Wife is a Holocaust novel with sentiments on family, love, and survival. Sophie's Choice meets Atonement in Richman's exquisite story about impossible lovers—the most perfect of lovers. It is at once haunting and elegant, symbolic and graceful, and in the end, is the kind of book that'll make your heart clench and your breath shudder.

8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read; highly recommended.

Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!!)
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LibraryThing member caroren
Wonderfully written book ! In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers. Providence is giving Lenka and Josef
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one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Loved the characters of Lena and Josef, the descriptions of life in the concentration camps were horrifying as would be expected, the smuggled painting were actually based on fact and the writing is very readable and descriptive. This is a book about overcoming, an enduring love, survival and
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second chances.
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LibraryThing member creighley
The story of two young lovers in pre-war Prague are torn apart as the Nazis invade their country. The horrors of the war are retold in back flashes. Moving..... Included is the story of Terezin, the German's ghetto where thousands of Jews were relocated. When the people there can no longer work,
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they are sent to Auschwitz.
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LibraryThing member castironskillet
This was a beautiful book, hard to put down. A beautiful love story, a story of survival and a story about survivor guilt. My only quibbles with it are this 1) I would have liked the relationship between Lenka and her sister to have been fleshed out more, 2) I wanted more of a story about what
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happened to Lenka after the war, and 3) I wanted more at the end when the re-found each other.
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LibraryThing member Lajordan
A wonderful love story. Heartbreaking with the backdrop of WWII and the internment camps. Beautifully told, excellent detail. The surprise twist comes at the beginning and the author goes on to fill in the back story for the remainder of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
LibraryThing member kcapelli
This book was wonderful. This is a love story in every sense- first loves, second loves, the love of family, the passion for art. The writing seemed a bit flowery at time, but would then deliver a line that stopped me in my tracks. My favorite passage by far is the following from the main
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character, Lenka-“In my old age, I have come to believe that love is not a noun but a verb. Like water, it flows to its own current. If you were to corner it in a dam, true love is so bountiful it would flow over. Even in separation, even in death, it moves and changes. It lives within memory, in the haunting of a touch, the transience of a smell, or the nuance of a sigh.”

The author is very descriptive and thought provoking. I was fascinated to learn more about the relocation camp Terezin. I had heard a little about this ghetto over the years, but did not know much. The writing was very descriptive – sight, sounds and smells all seemed very real.

Over all, I loved this book, though it definitely left me a little sad.
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LibraryThing member booklovers2
This was an EXCELLENT book. I listened to it as an audio book from The Audio performance was also excellent. This was a haunting, heart wrenching book involving a young married couple Josef and Lenka who marry in Prague just before the occupation. Josef's family gets a sponsor to
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travel to America with papers for Lenka and a promise for Lenka's family. Just before they are ready to leave, Josef breaks the news to his new bride that they can not accomodate Her family. Lenka refuses to leave without her family and Josef reluctantly goes ahead with with his family with the expectation that Lenka will follow when traveling papers are obtained for her whole family. Soon after Lenka is informed that the ship carrying Josef and his family is torpedo'ed and her family are ripped from their home and forced to board a train to be transported to the German camps. An emotional story that spans 60 years. Hard to get through this without shedding a few tears.
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LibraryThing member Magatha
I did not like this book, not at all. Many, many readers did, so my review may offend you. Sorry. I'm glad you liked it.

I kept wondering why exactly I disliked it so much. At first I thought that its setting in the Terezin Ghetto was too stark a venue for what was basically a romantic novel, but
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then I realized that my objection was not related to the Holocaust. I suspect that its placement in any time of serious human suffering would annoy me, whether it was London during the blitz, or a Japanese P.O.W. camp, or the siege of Leningrad. The romance is just too thin and it ends up seeming vapid, formulaic and dissonant.

The author has done her homework, to be sure. The Terezin concentration camp was unusual in that it was portrayed as a model "resettlement" community. It wasn't an extermination camp, but any semblance of normalcy was pure propaganda. Thus, those prisoners who weren't immediately shipped off to the death camps had a tenuous chance at a sort of life. They were allowed to organize themselves in certain respects, such as the author has carefully described: there was music, there were plays, there was a sort of school for the children. There was also terrible privation: hunger, disease, uncertainty, terror.

But in this story, despite the recitation of these conditions, those harsh edges get blurred in a way that makes me very uncomfortable. Here's a passage from Lenka's account. It is a minor observation by her, but one that exemplifies my objections. It is late 1943 in Terezin. She has informed us a few pages earlier that the camp has grown extremely crowded (58,000 in a site that before the war had been designed as barracks for 7,000). She and a fellow inmate with whom she works as an artist are talking.

"We are sitting on the same bench we always sit on, but now the air is pregnant with fall. I can detect the wind cooling, and smell the perfume of drying leaves. The red, dry earth is a dusty veil on my shoes."

Wait: what? "Pregnant with fall"? And then it's going to give birth to winter? Fall doesn't get pregnant. This is like a needle scraping on a record. "I can detect the wind cooling...." Well, that often happens when it gets cold. "...and smell the perfume of drying leaves...." Well, I suspect that unlike most concentration camps, there might have still been trees inside the Terezin confines, although one would guess they'd have been burned for fuel the previous winter. But whatever: there are leaves. In a place crowded by tens of thousands of frightened, desperate prisoners, many of whom suffer from typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis, and never-ending infestations of fleas and lice... but the leaves are perfume-y, and you can discern that scent amid the other perfume-y aromas of a concentration camp? Please.

I suspect that the author was so moved by the struggle to survive at Terezin, and not only survive, but seek cultural sustenance - and sometimes to achieve it - that she is forcing that admirable imagery to the detriment of both her story and the historical record. And it clashes. The book feels tone-deaf throughout.

In November of 1944, her parents are scheduled for transport to Auschwitz. (..."[A] name I wasn't familiar with" - in November of 1944? Unlikely.) She insists on signing herself up for transport as well. Her father, sick and skeletal, objects but she insists they have to stick together, a camp's a camp. They arrive at Auschwitz. "I looked at the steel-gray sky and saw chimneys blowing black smoke. 'That must be where we'll work', I thought. Factories for the German war effort. How wrong I was." No sh*t. If you can smell the perfume of drying leaves in Terezin, you can damn well smell the stench of burning bodies at Auschwitz.
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LibraryThing member silva_44
This book reminded me of several others in this genre. Touching without being too sappy.
LibraryThing member haymaai
I can honestly say that The Lost Wife is one of the most heart-wrenching stories I have read, with the scenes in the Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camps sadly depicting the atrocities and devastation endured by the Jewish prisoners. I was captivated by the story of a long lost love that
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endured for a lifetime through unspeakable adversities and hardship. Josef and Lenka fall madly in love and are quickly married only to soon be separated by the predicaments of war in Prague during WWII. Both thinking that the other has perished, the book juxtaposes between the voices of Josef and Lenka, as they each tell their story of how their lives unfolded after their separation. Although this book is not a fast moving, jubilant story, the writing is so amazingly beautiful, that to me, it is almost lyrical. The author, Alyson Richman, seems to have portrayed the characters and scenes so flawlessly that I felt transported through time, almost like a voyeur witnessing the experiences of Josef and Lenka. I especially wept when Lenka decides upon a special wedding gift to her granddaughter, as she is now finally sharing what has meant most to her all these years. The Lost Wife certainly speaks to me of man’s resilience in the face of insurmountable obstacles, and the power to love someone unceasingly throughout a lifetime.
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LibraryThing member Sarah_Gruwell
Wowsers… If you want an emotional look at the Holocaust and its effect on survivors, look no further than this novel. My first work by this author, I found myself sucked in by the emotional depth of both sets of scenes, occupied Europe and modern day New York. The authors way of writing lets her
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readers get to know the characters on a very personal level; as a consequence, what the characters are going through felt very immediate.

The themes explored in this novel surprised me. I expected the Holocaust stuff: the struggle for survival, families being torn apart, trying to keep one’s humanity in such trying circumstances, and the horrific pain any Holocaust novel worth its salt contains. I expected the love story torn apart by war; that was a treat.

Yet, I wasn’t expecting the intriguing exploration of how survivors dealt with re-building families they had lost and the guilt that resulted from having lived. Seeing the differences in how Josef and Amalia dealt with the respective pains and pasts kept me devouring the pages from their sections at an incredible speed.

The attention to detail the author paid to her historical research made this history lover happy as all get out. The reader gets a very deep look at the early days of Nazi occupation, the ever increasing hardship faced the Jewish population of Prague, and the horrors of the camps. I especially enjoyed learning how art and music made such a difference in the lives of Terezin’s inhabitants and how it became a vehicle to resistance. To learn it was all true was amazing.

The author also uses the brutality that was present in the Holocaust with restraint. Yes, it’s there (the image of the boy with the tractor in Terezin and Marta’s fate are prime examples of how brutality was utilized), but the author balances it out with the hope that the art brings in the lives of the Terezin inhabitants.

This novel was a fantastic introduction to this author. I’ll definitely be looking into more of her works soon. The themes explored and the emotional resonance that unfolded kept me spellbound from page one. I was also able to appreciate the amount of work the author put into her research. I appreciated the restraint and the balance she utilized in the more horrific aspects of her chosen material. This is a historical fiction novel I highly recommend to readers of Holocaust fiction; it will leave you emotionally moved and filled with retrospection at the same time.
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Original publication date



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