My Darling Elia

Eugenie Melnyk, Author, Melnyk, Author Thomas Dunne Books $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-20565-2
Sadness pervades Melnyks moving novel, the tale of a husband and wife wrenched apart by WWII, but the kindness and compassion of strangers provides an inspirational counterpoint to the cruelties of fate. Browsing at a flea market, Elia Strohan, an elderly Holocaust survivor living in Montreal, finds a locket he made for his wife 50 years ago in Kiev, the Ukraine. The heartbreaking story he reveals to the vendors, who are themselves of Ukrainian descent, is a tale of his unflagging love and his half-century quest for his wife. In 1941, the Jewish polyglot professor of languages loses contact with his gentile wife, gifted violinist Anna Romanovich, and after barely escaping extermination, he discovers that she has fled with their newborn baby to her family in Poland. Anna, meanwhile, believes that Elia was killed at Babi Yar, the ravine on Kievs outskirts where the Nazis shot to death 30,000 Jews. Melnyk, a Canadian writer who died earlier this year, mined letters and diaries of Hitlers victims in the Jewish Museum in Montreal, and the narrative vividly describes three well-known Holocaust sites: Babi Yar; the Treblinka extermination camp, where Elia, imprisoned as a work-Jew, joins a doomed revolt, and again miraculously escapes to hide out in the forests; and the Warsaw ghetto, as seen through the eyes of one of Elias fellow slave-laborers. Anna, sent to a forced labor camp in Germany, survives only by prostituting herself. After the saga of Elias frustrating search, the surprise ending brings yet another twist to an eloquent story. As if to relieve the novel of its burden of grief, Melnyk counterposes the horrors of the Holocaust with the offbeat quotidian world of flea markets, personified in warmhearted vendor Liz Cantrell and her rebellious teenage daughter, who try to track down the source of the pendant. These lively scenes of contemporary life take on a suspenseful immediacy as the search narrows and the quest nears its end. While it suffers from some of the awkwardness of a fictional debut, Melnycks heartfelt tale raises questions of morality, responsibility and guilt, and dramatizes the enduring effects of the Holocaust in a classic love story. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-312-27274-6
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