Tuesday, March 9, 2021

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler

February 2021  Simon and Schuster


A powerful and heart-breaking novel about three childhood friends living during the Second World War whose fates are closely intertwined, even when their lives take very different courses. For readers of Private Peaceful, The Book Thief and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. 

Three friends. Two sides. One memory. Vienna. 1936. Three young friends - Leo, Elsa and Max - spend a perfect day together, unaware that around them Europe is descending into a growing darkness, and that events soon mean that they will be cruelly ripped apart from each other. With their lives taking them across Europe - to Germany, England, Prague and Poland - will they ever find their way back to each other? Will they want to? 

Inspired by a true story, WHEN THE WORLD WAS OURS is an extraordinary novel that is as powerful as it is heartbreaking, and shows how the bonds of love, family and friendship allow glimmers of hope to flourish, even in the most hopeless of times.

Wow, what a book.  I had been in a bit of a reading rut, struggling to really get into a book, but I read this one in two sittings…it would have been one sitting had I not started it at night.

Leo, Elsa and Max, three best friends living in Vienna.  They experience one of those rare ‘perfect days’ celebrating Leo’s 9th birthday…and then the world as they know it changes, and friends become enemies. Leo and Elsa are Jews and Max is not.

The book follows these three characters on their separate, very different journeys through the years from 1936 to 1945.

I won’t give too much away, but the idea for this story came from the authors own grandfather.  He is the Leo in this story, and the chance encounter he had with a visiting English couple in Vienna turned out to change the course of his life.

This book is heartbreaking, so be prepared.  It is a story of the holocaust, and all of the horrors that surround that time in our history.  Not everything is explicitly explained, such as what happens to the Jews told to go to the left at Auschwitz, or what exactly Elsa’s friend Greta has to do, to get the extra food from the Nazi officers, but it’s all there.  

We get to see both sides in this book.  What is was to be Jewish, but also what it was to be a young German boy who grew up with one wish; to be part of the Hitler Youth.  Impossible to understand in hindsight, but how much did these young men really know about what being a Nazi soldier meant, in practice?

All of the darkness and sadness aside, this is also a story about family, hope and the memories of perfect days that keep us going, when the world is falling apart.

A must read. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read a review copy of this.

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