A transforming journey into a family’s past as a father takes his sons to Europe to follow in their relatives’ footsteps.
After his divorce, Rose (Flipping for It, not reviewed, etc.) decides to take 7-year-old Marshall and 12-year-old Alex, on a voyage of discovery into their father’s family’s circumstances during WWII. When they meet J.P., one of their relatives, he gives them a journal, runic but with enough information to follow. The three track J.P.’s movements as he fled with his family from the Nazis, town to town, hidey-hole to hidey-hole. On one level, this is an extended rumination on hiding places: “Even if they didn’t save our lives, they allowed us to reveal ourselves more fully than anywhere else. That was the wonderful paradox of hiding places. Not merely dark holes of concealment, they were also places of revelation.” But this is also a voyage of illumination, a reexperiencing in their own way of what J.P. and his family endured. It offers Rose as a father not only a chance to introduce his boys to a side of their family, but to address, often during bedtime chats, questions of love and hate and childhood, evil, forgiveness, and redemption, all sparked by visiting J.P.’s haunts along the trail. The boys come to know their relatives in wartime—“hiders in attics, hunted outcasts, pariahs and scaredy-cats and glorious eccentrics, caustic by nature and questioning by habit, and always on your toes.” Rose is blessed with a knack for character-sketching, for delineating the atmosphere of places, and for conveying drama: Their coming to an extermination camp in France, where J.P.’s two daughters were killed, is so powerful it’s crushing, a crash course in evil.
“It’s my task to transmit the legacy to a new generation of people the same age as those killed,” says Rose. He does just this, with tenderness and insight, retold here with extraordinary narrative skill.