*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Book of Lost Names, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas, and discussion questions in that order!
Are you a fan of WWII fiction? Many readers love to read about this devastating, yet fascinating time in history. There are so many stories of normal people doing extraordinary things in the face of unthinkable evil.
If you loved The Nightingale and The Alice Network, you’ll love The Book of Lost Names. The novel, set in WWII-era France, is slightly different than the other two novels in that it deals with forgers rather than spies.
The novel centers around a young Jewish woman, Eva, with a gift for drawing. When she escapes Nazi-occupied Paris for southern France by drawing up her own false papers, she catches the eye of a Catholic priest and soon becomes entangled in a forgery ring. There, she begins working diligently to create papers for children seeking refuge in Switzerland after their parents are snatched away to concentration camps.
While Eva seems to find her purpose in using her gift to save children, she mourns for the way the Jews are being eliminated, both by the erasing of their lives and their identities.
The book grapples with the questions of heritage and identity in the face of great prejudice and eradication. Beyond asking these questions of herself and her new occupation, Eva struggles define where her loyalties lie as she falls deeper in love with her co-forger, Remy, a French Catholic her mother disapproves of.
If you love WWII fiction and are looking for a new take on the subject, you’ll love The Book of Lost Names. The ins and outs of the forgery ring (based on true life events!) is fascinating to read about.
I also found it overall to be an uplifting read, which is sometimes hard to achieve given the subject.
There is plenty to discuss about The Book of Lost Names and who doesn’t love a novel based on real life events with a love story and a heroic adventure to boot? On that note, I’ve provided book club questions and food ideas for The Book of Lost Names, so if you are looking for book club ideas, keep reading!
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Here’s a brief summary of The Book of Lost Names:
In 1942, Eva Traube is forced to flee Nazi-occupied Paris for Southern France after her father, a Polish Jew, is arrested. With her mother in tow, Eva uses her gift for drawing to forge their documents and seek refuge in a small town near the Switzerland border. There, the documents are noticed by a Catholic priest and Eva soon finds herself pulled into a forgery ring assisting children seeking refuge in Switzerland after their parents are snatched away to concentration camps.
Alongside the handsome Remy, Eva uses her gifts to save lives, but she soon realizes that erasing people comes at a price and she and Remy begin a secret code in an ancient book to save the names of the children they are erasing. When the group they work for is infiltrated and Remy disappears, Eva fights even harder to protect The Book of Lost Names.
In present day, Eva freezes when she recognizes The Book of Lost Names on the pages of a magazine and the plea for anyone who might know what the code within the pages means. Sixty-five years later, Eva is the only one who can answer that question, but does she have the strength to revisit painful memories in order to reunite those who lost each other during the war?
For The Book of Lost Names Food Ideas:
Food ideas for books about World War II are often a challenge since most countries faced rations, if not starvation. (See my struggle to find a recipe for The Nightingale here). With The Book of Lost Names, it was no different.
There are slightly more options than you normally see in WWII fiction and if you are set on serving dinner, Madame Barbier’s roast chicken will be a nice choice.
For me, I would love to create something with bread and cheese reminiscent of the night Eva and Remy spent near the Switzerland border.
If you are looking for something else, here are some other food ideas from The Book of Lost Names:
- Chapter 2- Potato soup the Traube’s last meal together
- Chapter 5- Strawberries at Madame Barbier’s when they arrive in Aurignon
- Chapter 9- Roasted chicken on spring onions, with crisp roasted potatoes and red wine from dinner with Madame Barbier when she tries to convince Eva to stay and help
- Chapter 11- Bread, oranges, sausage and cheese when Remy and Eva visit Paris and stay at a brothel
- Chapter 17- Roasted chicken, potatoes, red wine and ersatz coffee with cream when Joseph comes to dinner at Madame Barbier’s
- Chapter 27- Bread, cheese, and red wine when Eva and Remy spend the night at the safe house on the Switzerland border
And, if in doubt, red wine is mentioned several times throughout the book…
The Book of Lost Names Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Eva never uses a weapon during the war, but, in her way, uses her gifts as an artist to become a forger to fight the Germans. Do you think Eva believed that what she did was enough?
- Did you believe that Remy’s character would feel as though he needed to do more than what he was doing forging documents? How was helping Children escape different than combat against the Germans?
- Why do you think Eva’s mother had difficulty seeing that what Eva was doing was honoring her heritage in a very real way? What did you think of Mamusia?
- Eva feels strongly about keeping a record of the children’s original names recorded despite the danger because she doesn’t want to erase who they are. At Auschwitz, Jews were reduced to a number, also striping them of their names, but in a different way. Discuss how difficult it would be to endure the terrible hardships Jews faced in WWII with the added loss of identity. Would physical obstacles or loss of identity be harder to endure?
- Eva seems to always evade trouble throughout the book, only facing a truly close call when one of her own betrays her. How did you feel about this (compared to other WWII novels you might have read)? Were you relieved or did her luck feel false to you?
- Eva and Remy love each other deeply and make a plan to meet after the war. After WWII, there was chaos because so many lives were lost without record and so many people displaced. Do you think Eva waited long enough for Remy and vice versa before moving on? If you were in the same situation, how long would you wait?
- Discuss the unexpected reunion at the end of the book. Are you familiar with any similar stories from WWII? Share them with the group.
- Why do you think Eva never shares her past with her son? Why do you think she refused to give her name to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem when she sent as many of the names as she could recall from memory?
- At the end of the book, Eva says, “We aren’t defined by the names we carry or the religion we practice or the nation whose flag flies over our heads. I know that now. We’re defined by who we are in our hearts, who we choose to be on this earth.” Discuss how this is true of all the main characters (good and bad), how it is true (or untrue) of all of us in times of human crises.
- How did this compare to other WWII novels that you’ve read? What was your favorite aspect of this book that you hadn’t seen in other WWII novels?
Have you read The Book of Lost Names? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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