This fictional family saga leading up to and through World War II is a finely detailed story of grit and survival, a story more universal than unique.
To call Revak’s debut a novel is a little misleading. While he uses novelistic techniques, this is really the true story of the Revak family, stretching back to the early years of the last century. We begin in early 1920s Scheindorf, a village in Hungary/Romania (boundaries are always shifting), with Gertrude Revak and her only child, Stefan. Stefan Sr. is in America, trying to earn enough money to bring them over. Stefan is a good son, old beyond his years, and he and his mother are hanging on grimly. Defeated by immigration laws, Stefan Sr. returns to Scheindorf. They are a family again and begin to prosper. Stefan marries Maria Ditzig, and they have two daughters. Everything is good, but as always, it does not last. Comes the war, and Stefan is drafted into the German army. Stefan, no Nazi, is appalled by every aspect of the war. And eventually the Revaks will have to flee Scheindorf, becoming displaced persons. The war ends, and Stefan frantically searches for his family. After a hair-raising effort, he becomes a POW, lost in the bureaucracy. (His eventual release involves an amazing coincidence that Revak assures us is true.) By the 1950s—Revak himself was born shortly after the war—the Revaks have reached the promised land of the USA. The book is well-written. Sometimes plot points—obstacles to be faced, tearful anxieties and then reunions, gut-wrenching disappointments—seem to be hammered home a little too hard. There is a balance here of cruelties and kindnesses that make these bromides real—human nature writ large. One lesson is that the aftermath of a war is almost as bad as the war itself. Includes a timeline, character list, and bibliography.
A skillfully rendered, if occasionally overwrought, portrayal of resolve during and after war.