Monica Hesse is one of my favorite young adult authors, my go-to when I need historical mystery fiction. Warning: her books cover heavy topics, which may not be something that you can handle right now. Somehow I missed her newest release that came out in April 2020, so I spent a weekend reading They Went Left . This book discusses the Holocaust, World War II, and surviving post-war.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse begins with the liberation of concentration camps in Germany 1945. The soldiers who liberated told the survivors that the war was over, but it didn’t seem like that to them. Eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman is in a hospital trying to recover and heal, so that she can start searching for her younger brother. Her mind and body are broken, but she must find Abek. Abek and Zofia were separated three years ago from the rest of their family. Abek and Zofia went right, while everyone else went left to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Their parents, grandma, and their Aunt Maja all went left. When Zofia and Abek were eventually separated, Zofia promised to find him again, no matter what.
Flash forward three years and Zofia feels the deep urge to find Abek. Relying initially on the help from others, Zofia travels to various places across post-war Europe desperately searching for any sign of Abek. As she searches, Zofia slowly begins to rebuild the remains of her destroyed life. Her mind and body begin to heal as she looks for answers and starts to open up to other survivors.
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Set in southern Poland at the turn of the century in 1890, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing , is the first book in a new series by Maryla Szymiczkowa, a pseudonym for two Polish authors. The book offers a unique look at the culture, lifestyle and social climbing of the upper class society in Cracow, which comes alive through our heroine, Zofia Turbotynska. Zofia is the wife of a university medical professor who is looking to strengthen (and elevate) her social status with a variety of charitable endeavors but finds her true calling as a newly minted sleuth.
Her favorite organization of the moment, Helcel House, is a retirement home run by a bevy of nuns who she finds in panic one morning upon the disappearance of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mohr. Mrs. Mohr is finally located dead in an attic room that would be impossible for her to reach in her immobile condition. Zofia starts her own investigation after the police rule the death an accident. Soon thereafter, another resident of Helcel House goes missing and then a third disappears and Zofia is confident that someone is targeting the elderly residents of the home. Investigating the cases with only her cook and one inquisitive nun in her confidence, Zofia is able to solve the complex case near the end of the book while gathering all the parties together at the Helcel House for an unveiling of the real killer.
Its glimpse into the changing landscape of Poland is what initially caught my attention. As mysteries are my genre of choice, the cultural context and hierarchy of their society was fascinating as well. The author provides a nice summary at the beginning of the book that details the complex history of Poland during the 1800s, which includes being partitioned by the empires of Prussia, Russia and Austria. If you like the feel of a cozy mystery with a rich historical glimpse into the past, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing is a great choice.
I have been reading a lot of World War II fiction recently, purely by chance. 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson fit so neatly into the timeline of a previous WWII book that I had read that I noticed myself mixing storylines. Once I realized, I paid more attention and started taking notes (Taking notes is more than okay to do! Even when you’re not in school.) This novel was enjoyable and I found myself connecting to most of the characters.
22 Britannia Road tells the story of a family’s rediscovery of each other after World War II. Silvana and Janusz were married right around the beginning of the war. Their marriage began sweet and full of promise with each other’s past left fully in the past. Silvana’s family was less than caring about her, while Janusz is very close to his. Silvana and Janusz settle in Warsaw where they work at keeping their marriage together. Janusz leaves Silvana and their young son to join the military. Years pass, both during the war and after the war, with Silvana and Janusz doing whatever they have to in order to survive.
Once reunited the family moves to England where they struggle to put the past behind them. Both Sylvana and Janusz have secrets though, plus the area where they are living brings its own issues to the surface. Janusz has very much adapted to the English way of life, while Sylvana and their son still mostly speak Polish and have troubles adapting to their new normal life. Settling into their new house, Sylvana and Janusz begin a tentative new life, rediscovering each other and their new home after the ravages of war. Each of them carry secrets that even before they are voiced begin to eat away at Silvana and Janusz inside. What did Janusz do those six years that he was gone? Where did Sylvana and their child end up? How did they survive?
This novel juxtaposes both the present day and the past to show what happened to Silvana, Janusz, and their son during the time when they all were separated from each other. I greatly enjoyed the flashbacks because it helped me to justify and see some of the reasons that each family member behaves the way that they do. This psychological fiction really had me thinking about the secrets we keep from the people we love and the secrets that we’ve become so accustomed to that they eventually feel like our normal life.
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