Having fled the Nazis, a young Austrian couple in 1945 London discovers that for Jews like them, the war did not end with VE Day. While they desperately seek word on the possible survival or whereabouts of family members sent to concentration camps, petitions are being signed by anti-Semitics in their neighborhood of Hampstead to "send the aliens home"—ostensibly to clear space and jobs for returning British soldiers.
Veteran NBC correspondent Fletcher's engrossing first novel, loosely based on his parents' story, captures a neglected piece of postwar history through the plight of the spirited Edith, who is seven months pregnant with her first child following a miscarriage, and Georg, a reserved lawyer reduced to making buttons for a living. When Edith's first cousin Anna unexpectedly arrives, traumatized by her time in Auschwitz, she raises hope, however dim, that other relatives will follow, maybe even Edith's father. It's a time when the horrific truths of the camps are not yet widely known or understood—and when lies about Jews, including the notion they have any "home" to return to—are passed off as truth. Drawn to Ismael, an Egyptian Arab who despite his seeming antagonism toward Jews has a habit of coming to their rescue, Anna slowly emerges from her personal darkness. The lightly veiled truth is that Ismael is actually Israel, part of a secret plot to assassinate British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin for his part in the blockade to limit the number of Jews allowed into Palestine. Fletcher (Walking Israel, 2010, etc.) is more convincing as a domestic observer than a spy/political-thriller writer. As fact-based as this book may be, the narrative is a bit too neatly tied up and cozy with coincidence for the novel to gain as much traction as it could have. But this is still a powerful, affecting work.
A post-Holocaust novel that should be required reading wherever lessons about the plight of modern-day European Jews are taught.