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The Border of Truth: A Novel Hardcover – March 13, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1940, Itzak Lejdel, a teenage Jewish refugee from Brussels being held aboard a ship docked in Virginia, is one of 86 passengers whose visas have been rejected and are about to be returned to Nazi-occupied Europe. Itzak writes a series of pleas to Eleanor Roosevelt to intervene, filling his letters with colorful rumors about fellow passengers, endearing details about the movies he loves and his adolescent crushes, as well as harrowing tales about his family's flight from the Nazis. The correspondence alternates with the 2003 story of Itzak's daughter, Sara, a 41-year-old single professor with a penchant for married lovers who's in the process of adopting a war-refugee child. This milestone, coupled with Sara's chance encounter with a woman who knows more about Sara's family history than Sara does, compels Sara to look into her family's hidden past: did Itzak abandon a sickly mother to pursue his own freedom, and what was the fate of Itzak's father? Redel (Loverboy) offers a welcome and fresh perspective on the well-trod subject of the Holocaust, and though Sara can grate (she acknowledges early on that she sounds "like someone on a moral high horse"), young Itzak's joie de vivre perfectly counterbalances her self-importance. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Do you really want to uncover those family secrets and lies? At 41, Sara, an academic in Manhattan, registers with an international adoption agency, and she is required to provide her family history. She knows her loving, widowed father, Richard, came to the U.S. as a Holocaust refugee in the 1940s, but he does not talk about it. What is he holding back? Part of the answer comes in his alternating narrative as Itzak Lejdel, 17, on board a Portuguese refugee ship in 1940. He writes letters to Eleanor Roosevelt, begging her to help him get a visa, talking about family, movies, girls, and about the threat of being refused entry and sent back to Nazi-occupied Europe. The alternating narratives are sometimes distracting, but as the family mystery builds to a climax, the revelations of love, guilt, betrayal, loss, and denial are haunting. As is the realization that "there is so much now Sarah knows she doesn't know." And doesn't want to know. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Much of the book is historically accurate, even though it’s fiction. I really enjoyed Googling European towns, people and events. I learned a lot about the past, and what it means to be a refugee -- how it’s a lot like the present.
The more I read, the more the momentum until I had to stay up late in the night to finish it because I couldn't sleep without knowing the ending. This is a lovely book with engaging narrative and secrets hiding within secrets. Everything you want from fiction.
The story is a juxtaposition of two threads: The first is a series of letter written--but not sent--to Eleanor Roosevelt by a teenage refugee on a ship off Virgina from which he hoped to gain entry to the US in 1940. The second is a third person account of his daughter's attempts to penetrate her father's past to provide a family story in anticipation of adopting a daughter forty-three years later. The letters progressively reveal more of the "truth", while in the daughter's story she slowly ferrets out the same facts.
So far, so good. The interplay and pacing of the two parts is excellent, and the general approach works. Only some details bother me. The letters become more adolescent in the middle of the story, although that might be argued to be understandable in terms of the stress the boy was under. Some of the daughter's actions are harder to accept. Professor about to adopt a baby finds happiness with the furniture repair man? Well ...
Ultimately it was a good story, but I finished it not understanding either the father or daughter. The author never provided a sufficiently compelling psychology of either of her protagonists to answer the question "why?". It would have been less of a problem had the novel been less ambitious and the author obviously less talented, but I'm left with the feeling that Redel should be capable of more.
I do think she's an author to watch.
yes, for the ones that can't read in between all these different components of the book, it migh seem boring or confusing, Victoria is not only talented, but this book projects all fears, moments and parts of history that sometimes are hard to understand in one human brain. Loved it, will read and re-read again.
There are many ways we learn about big historical events. While this author obviously fictionalizes characters and events on this ship's journey, her characters help us understand how people make sense of what becomes history in their every day lives, and the enduring psychological imprint historical events leave on us - and our children.
A beautiful, haunting, and deeply engrossing read!
Melinda Fine, Ed.D.
New York University