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Thursday, July 03, 2014

The One I Was by Eliza Graham

The One I Was intertwines past and present.  When Benny Goldberg arrived in England as part of the kindertransport in 1938, he was eleven-years-old. After Kristalnacht, England accepted Jewish children as refugees; first from Germany, then from Austria when it was occupied, and so on, until war with Germany was actually declared.  England absorbed over 10,000 children before the kindertransport was ended.  Children who most likely would not have survived otherwise.

Now old and dying of cancer, Benny meets Rosamond Hunter, the nurse who accepts the job of hospice care for Benny's final days.

The twist is that Lady Harriet Dorner, Rosamond's grandmother, and her husband are the ones who adopted Benny and five other boys.   Forty years later, when Rosamond was thirteen, Lady Harriet died and Fairfleet, the lovely country estate, eventually had to be sold.  Benny, having found safety at Fairfleet when young, bought the estate, and he and his wife lived in the there for many happy years.

Rosamond's memories of the house are both similar and vastly different.  The Jewish boys were long gone--grown and in successful careers--by the time Rosamond and her brother were born, but their adoption is part of the Fairfleet legend.  

After her beloved grandmother's death, however, several events came to a head in the house, and Rosamond's mother died in circumstances for which Rosamond feels responsible. Returning to Fairfleet some thirty years later is a matter of facing her own ghosts.  She doesn't reveal her past association with the house; but Benny senses something about her, and he has some ghosts to lay to rest as well.

The One I Was is a thoughtful story of traumatic events in the lives of two young people of two different generations; events they can neither forget nor deny, and with which each needs to come to terms.

There is a lot to appreciate here on many levels.  Recommended.

Another documentary of the kindertransport, Into the Arms of Strangers narrated by Judi Dench, won an Academy Award in 2000.  I'd really like to see this one. 

(I received the book as an ARC from NetGalley, but I notice that Amazon's current Kindle price is only 3.99, and if you have Prime, the novel is available in the lending library.)

NetGalley/Morton Street Books

Contemporary/Historic Fiction.  2014.  Print length:  334 pages.


  1. I would like to read this one. As I began to read your review, I immediately thought of Into the Arms of Strangers, which I'd seen when it came out and had been moved by. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Jenclair!

  2. This sounds good. I've read many WWII books, but I have never read anything about the kindertransport.

  3. The plot sounds good. I'd like to know more about the two leading characters and what happened to them towards the end. Great review!

  4. Wendy - The kindertransport isn't a huge part of the novel, but is crucial to the plot. For some reason, I've always been drawn to this idea of tens of thousands of children transported away from their homes. The British evacuation of children from London, the kindertransport, the American Orphan Trains; it seems so impossible....

    I really must see Into the Arms of Strangers.

  5. Irene - This is the first book I've read that has a character that was part of the kindertransport. I've seen it referenced, but like you, haven't seen much detail in fact or fiction. I need to watch Into the Arms of Strangers and see if I can find at least one nonfiction book on the subject.

  6. Melody - Two plot lines, two time periods, but the resolution unites both characters. I felt great tension during parts of this novel.

  7. I just watched the YouTube video. Man, so powerful. And I just downloaded Into the Arms of Strangers to watch. I was just in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic, and all the while I had the war and the people in my mind. There are powerful feelings evoked at every turn there. I'm in the middle of All the Light We Cannot See at the moment. It, too, is about France and Germany, and, specifically, two children from each, during WWII. So far, it is very good, though hard to think about in places.

  8. DebbyMc - Yes, you've had a very personal involvement, haven't you?
    I love the title "All the Light We Cannot See"--I'm adding that to my list. One of the very best things about fiction is the way it leads us to fact. Yet fiction evokes a more emotional turbulence, so I can imagine that it would be hard to think about the children in this book.