Forging for Freedom: Kristin Harmel's "The Book of Lost Names"
New York Times bestselling author Kristin Harmel’s latest, The Book of Lost Names, tells the moving, courageous, brave tale of Eva Traube, a Jewish young woman seeking freedom from the Nazi regime during World War II. Opening with Eva’s father Tatus being captured and ultimately imprisoned by the Nazis, the book takes the reader on a scenic journey across Eastern Europe as Eva finds herself fighting not just for her own freedom but the freedom of countless other Jews and Polish immigrants seeking asylum, via forgery of false documents and joining of the Resistance movement against the Nazis. Does Eva eventually escape to Switzerland with her mother, Mamausia? What about the countless children that Eva forges documents for--what becomes of them? Will they be forgotten, or will Eva’s Book of Lost Names, a tome documenting the childrens’ real names so that their real lives and culture won’t be forgotten, survive?
Tatus, prior to being captured, instructs Eva to escape to Switzerland with her mother if he is to ever be captured by the Nazis. When that inevitable day comes, Eva thinks fast and forms a plan to whisk herself and her mother away to Switzerland, a neutral country where they will be safe from persecution. In order to do this, Eva crafts false documents—documents that, unbeknownst to Eva, are made well enough to pass German inspection. News of her skills at forgery soon spread in the French town of Aurignon where she and Mamausia decide to temporarily settle, and soon enough, Eva finds herself working with the Resistance movement, alongside priest Pere Clement and handsome forger Remy, to help countless others escape from Nazi persecution.
As time goes on, tension grows just about everywhere around Eva. She and her mother grow further and further apart the longer they stay in Aurignon; Mamausia is grieving the loss of her Tatus, partially blames Eva for not doing more to save him, and feels as though Eva, in joining the Resistance, is turning her back on her family, her faith, and her culture. Further complicating matters, as the war heats up and the pressure mounts on Eva to produce more and more false documents for asylum seekers and avoid detection by German occupants, romantic tension between Eva and Remy, her partner in crime, becomes apparent. Eva enjoys spending time with Remy, and wants to be with him, but cannot help but be conflicted. Remy is not Jewish, and this creates even more strife between Eva and her mom, who would rather Eva be with, for example, Joseph, a Jewish boy from Eva’s past.
The crux of the story revolves around the children that Eva helps to emancipate. Via working for the Resistance, Eva is able to create what she calls a Book of Lost Names, a tome with a cipher in it that only she and Remy can decipher, which documents each of the childrens’ actual, Jewish names. Seeing the destruction and erasure of her people and culture all around her by the Nazis, Eva can’t help but want to somehow preserve what she can of these childrens’ true identities.
Told mainly in the past tense with some flashforwards interspersed periodically throughout in order to give the reader a glimpse at how the events of the 1930s-40s impacted Eva later in life, The Book of Lost Names is an homage to one’s heritage, one’s culture, one’s identity, and the lasting power of community, the written word, and family. Kristin Harmel will be joining us for a virtual interview and discussion of her new book on August 30. Admission is free, but donations are suggested. For more information and to reserve a spot in this event, you can head to Southern Lit Alliance’s website at southernlitalliance.org/kristin-harmel