The Fortunate Ones by Ellen Umansky – 324 pages
1939 in Vienna, Rose Zimmer’s parents are desperate. Unable to get out of Austria, they manage to secure passage for their young daughter on a kindertransport, and send her to live with strangers in England. Six years later, the war finally over, a grief-stricken Rose attempts to build a life for herself. Alone in London, devastated, she cannot help but try to search out one piece of her childhood: the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished. Many years later, the painting finds its way to America. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein has returned home for her father’s funeral. Newly single and unsure of her path, she also carries a burden of guilt that cannot be displaced. The Soutine painting that she loved and had provided lasting comfort to her after her own mother had died was stolen, and has never been recovered. This painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship, eventually revealing long-held secrets that hold painful truths.
My Review: 4 stars
The Fortunate Ones was at first glance about a famed, twice stolen piece of art, and the connections it brings throughout the generations. I can assure you that in reading this book; you’ll be drawn into the past and the present with a story about forgiveness, guilt, secrets, lies, love, survival, family ties and friendship. It’s a multi-layered story in a short 324 pages.
The artwork stolen in this novel, by master artist Chaim Soutine, is fictional. Yet this piece of art is the catalyst that brings the cast of characters together. Two women, separated by generations had the image of this piece of art, the fictionalized Bell Hop, as a memory that connects them to their home and most importantly their mothers’. When these two meet, a unique and unlikely friendship emerges. It’s cathartic and warm until secrets begin to undermine their relationship.
This book offers us a bit of Vienna and London before, during and after the war. This is not a full on Holocaust novel but there is a crucial storyline that surrounds it that becomes the backbone of the book. I’ve seen a few negative reviews citing that this novel really isn’t about WW2 and/or the Holocaust. I’d counter that these reviewers are right; it’s about so much more than that. The Holocaust is just one part of the book.
As I read more and more books that uncover secrets after someone has died, it just unnerves me. I believe this happens in real life as much as it does in fiction so why oh why do people leave things unsettled or unfinished? What a burden that leaves on the surviving family- albeit it makes for good fiction as it did in this novel. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Quotes I liked:
And nothing is just interesting. Things are upsetting or wonderful, stupid or delightful, charming or beautiful or terrible. What do you mean, ‘interesting’?”
-“Teaching was less about instruction and more about exerting control.”
-“Ghosts can’t give birth.”