Lynn Austin has written a novel about World War 2 from a fresh perspective and a plot that has some surprising twists!
At first I must confess, that I did not expect this book to hold my interest. For a while I had gone on a World War Two binge and thought I pretty much had read every kind of plot there was to know. I also figured I could predict each romantic interest possible, and how they would turn out.
I was surprised to find myself caught up in the characters of this book and their fears, struggles, and eventual resolution (or not). The disclosures near the end of the book and the explanations for why certain characters were acting the way they did were very well done, and I found myself pleasantly surprised by the unexpected!
Why did Peter stop talking? what made Penny’s parents act the way they did? is Jacob’s family going to survive over in Europe? why were so many countries refusing to admit Jewish refugees during this horrific (and life-threatening) time in history?
And the sub-plots…. will Penny ever succeed in having a normal life, with a husband and family of her own? Can she get past the restrictions of her parent’s unreasonable sheltering and be able to hold a normal job?
Will Penny’s parents get past the hurts of the past and be able to love her the way she deserves to be loved? What about Esther; will she ever learn to appreciate and be grateful to her substitute mother? will Jacob continue to struggle with loneliness and old age, bereft of family and continuing to hold on to his bitterness against a God he could no longer trust?
Jacob stood and scooped up a handful of newspaper clippings from his desk, then dropped them on the rebbe’s lap. “Look at these. Families left with nothing but rubble, lives destroyed…and why? Ask Herr Hitler why…How can Hashem stand by and allow it?”
The rebbe took a moment to study each of the pictures that Jacob had thrown at him, examining them all before replying.
“The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time that was much like ours. He, too, asked… ‘Why do you tolerate the treacherous? why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?’ and you know Hashem’s reply as well as I do: “the righteous shall live by his faith.’
We may never understand Hashem’s plans and purposes, or see the fulfillment of all that He is doing. But He asks us to live our lives in humble faith, trusting Him even when we cannot see.”
Jacob looked away from Rebbe Grunfeld’s sorrowing eyes. “I remember a time when I could read the scriptures and find comfort in them, too. But not now, Rebbe. Not anymore.”
The author is not afraid to ask questions or point out human emotions that we all have.
“Everyone says that my mama and Mrs. Mendel are up in heaven now, but I don’t understand why God wanted them, do you? Couldn’t He see that we need them down here a lot more?”
Jacob felt tears burning his eyes. He looked at his cluttered kitchen, the stack of dirty dishes, then at the child waiting for his reply, and he realized her need was every bit as great as his was….
“I am sorry. But I do not know the answer to your question.”
“Sometimes…” she said softly, “Sometimes I feel really, really mad at God.”
He could hardly speak. “Yes. Yes, so do I.”
The characters in this novel illustrated the difficulties of human conflict and drama that we all struggle with. Themes that are present in contemporary society like unplanned pregnancy, adoption (and seeking out biological parents), prejudice and persecution, grief and recovery from loss.
It is possible that some readers may feel that the endings tied up all the loose threads too neatly and solved everyone’s problems too easily, but I did enjoy the process of getting to those answers in the end.
In “While We’re Far Apart”, Lynn Austin has done a super job in constructing an interesting novel and crafting a story well worth reading.