THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES by Kristin Harmel

“You don’t need money or weapons or a big platform to change the world. Sometimes, something as simple as a pen and a bit of imagination can alter the course of history.”

In May of 2005, eighty-six-year-old Eva Traube Adams was working as a semi-retired librarian in Winter Park, Florida.  One morning midway through her shift she is startled by a picture she sees in the current issue of The New York Times.   Could it be she is looking at the very book she thought had been lost for good over 60 years ago?  She starts reading the article about Otto Kuhn, a librarian working in Berlin, who has dedicated his life to returning books looted by the Nazis during World War II to their rightful owners.  In describing his life-long work, he says that there is one book in particular that is most intriguing.  It’s a rare religious book with some sort of code throughout its pages.    Eva gasps for breath.  She immediately realizes she must go to Germany to retrieve the Book of Lost Names that holds so many secrets.

As a young girl Eva lived in Paris with her parents.   During the occupation of Paris by the Germans and after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew, Eva and her mother were forced to flee to the Free Zone in a small mountain town outside the city.  It was there that Eva becomes involved in the Resistance movement.  She and her handsome counterpart Remy develop exceptional skills as document forgers.  They work tirelessly to create fake birth certificates and other papers to allow Jewish children safe passage to neutral Switzerland.  But as their work begins one thing weighs heavily on Eva.  After the war how would these children learn their real identity in hopes of ever reuniting with their families?  Many were too young to possibly remember.  So, Eva becomes determined to create a written record of their true identities.  With Remy’s mathematical mind, the solution becomes clear.  They develop a secret code which classifies each child by their real name.  Thus, The Book of Lost Names was born.

As the story unfolds, Eva’s work and her relationship with Remy reveals the strain between a mother who wants her daughter to fall in love with a nice Jewish boy and the pervasive and ever-present deception and lack of trust so prevalent in times of war.  Eva is clearly in love with Remy.  But a union between a Jewish girl and a non-Jewish boy was clearly not acceptable. 
This tumultuous relationship with her mother is gently intertwined throughout the book as we encounter many of the relationship challenges people from different backgrounds and religions experience.

Inspired by true events, this historical fiction story is gripping and easy to read.  The forgery operation during the resistance was well-researched and presented.  We learn of the tireless work done by so many ordinary people who helped Jewish children and adults flee the horrors of Nazi occupation.  The suggestion of romantic ties between Remy and Eva keeps the reader captivated.  Deception, lack of trust, surprising determination and bravery and courage, coupled with forbidden romance all combine to make this historical fiction a great read.  

Our book club rated this one 5 stars!  You won’t want to put it down!