Once We Were Home, a review by Sherry

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Once We Were Home
Jennifer Rosner

339 pages
Flatiron Books
published March 14, 2023

Amazon | Goodreads

Since first reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I’ve been intrigued by all the personal stories that surround the holocaust.  I recently read a book where UK parents sent their almost teenage daughter to the US to avoid the war.  And this one is similar to that, but with even younger children being sent to safety elsewhere in Europe.

While this one starts out with the parting of parents and children, which I just can’t fathom having to do that, it goes beyond that into what the children endured and how a Jewish family sends their most precious members to Christian family.  Very much a coming of age story, but so much more.  Does religion shape the person?  What is family?  Each of our four narrators has a very different idea of religion and family and it adapts and changes throughout the story.  And I have never thought a lot about the word home, but the mixup in the meaning from one person to another also gave me pause.

This is beautifully written and kept me wanting more and not wanting to put it down.  There’s great characterization of our four narrators and even some of the supporting cast.  I loved Oskar’s relationship with others and how the jokes would fly.  They eased the intensity of a serious topic.

It’s a unique insight into another side effect of the war that should appeal to both historical fiction lovers and those that love books that make you think.  I think this would make a great book club book as there is so many ideas of religion, family and home.

About the book

When your past is stolen, where do you belong?

Ana will never forget her mother’s face when she and her baby brother, Oskar, were sent out of their Polish ghetto and into the arms of a Christian friend. For Oskar, though, their new family is the only one he remembers. When a woman from a Jewish reclamation organization seizes them, believing she has their best interest at heart, Ana sees an opportunity to reconnect with her roots, while Oskar sees only the loss of the home he loves.

Roger grows up in a monastery in France, inventing stories and trading riddles with his best friend in a life of quiet concealment. When a relative seeks to retrieve him, the Church steals him across the Pyrenees before relinquishing him to family in Jerusalem.

Renata, a post-graduate student in archaeology, has spent her life unearthing secrets from the past–except for her own. After her mother’s death, Renata’s grief is entwined with all the questions her mother left unanswered, including why they fled Germany so quickly when Renata was a little girl.

Two decades later, they are each building lives for themselves, trying to move on from the trauma and loss that haunts them. But as their stories converge in Israel, in unexpected ways, they must each ask where and to whom they truly belong.

Beautifully evocative and tender, filled with both luminosity and anguish, Once We Were Home reveals a little-known history. Based on the true stories of children stolen during wartime, this heart-wrenching novel raises questions of complicity and responsibility, belonging and identity, good intentions and unforeseen consequences, as it confronts what it really means to find home.

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