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HFC Editorial Review of "A Brother for Sorrows" by Anita Tiemeyer

Everything was the empty colorlessness of annihilation. Nothing had been left alive except the near unconscious casualty on the kitchen floor. The heap she had found wasn’t Joe. In her brother’s face, Irene saw the paralysis of total defeat to whoever or whatever that had caused him to try to take his life. How serendipitous that Hitler’s face stared out at the carnage from the top of the books.”

Simply riveting! As a reader and a reviewer of Ms Tiemeyer’s first book in the Joe Kaufman series, The Guardian’s Son, I was anxious to get started on this one, and from the first page I knew this one was just as engaging as the first.

Joe Kaufman, the little boy from The Guardian’s Son, is now a grown man and a doctoral student at Indiana University in 1963. The nightmares of his time spent at Buchenwald Concentration Camp as a little boy come back full circle when he accompanies fellow student, Robert Stangarden, back to his house in Indianapolis at the end of the school year. But all is not what it seems at Robert’s house, and the moment Joe’s eyes meet the shocked gazes of Henry and Ada Stangarden, the downward spiral of depression sucks Joe into a vortex of darkness.

He recognizes them from Buchenwald; Nazi civilians who worked in the camp and somehow connected to the demise of his real parents. He cannot handle the shock and in desperation, he tries to take his life... again rescued by his guardian, Grayson, and Grayson’s daughter, Irene who take him back to Ithaca and surround him with love and care – away from that Nazi and his wife.

But life has a way of connecting lives and stories. Robert Stangarden, while eager to begin the next year of school, is brutally beaten by the one man desperate to keep Robert away from the ‘undesirable Jewish pig’, Joe Kaufman. Without understanding why, Robert ends up in the emergency room, dropped off at the hospital curb by his acquiescent mother, Ada, and left for dead. Irene, now a doctor at the hospital, treats Robert while investigators delve into possible suspects for the horrific and nearly deadly beating.

Secrets are revealed as Robert’s father, Henry, is arrested and put on trial for the attempted murder of his son... and Joe holds the key to much deeper truths as the trial develops. But Joe is not the only one with buried secrets... but, of course, this review reveals no spoilers. I can say that the author crafts an incredible story which will keep you on the edge of your seat. I read this in one sitting as I could not put it down!! This is a true ‘Perry Mason’ nail-biting, unexpected storyline – and, at the heart, of how something good can emerge from the ashes of something as horrific as the Holocaust.

Ms Tiemeyer has an incredible way with words. Anyone who can imagine describing someone as ‘his face was as gaunt as an Old Testament prophet’ is, in my opinion, a skilled storyteller. There are so many luscious passages throughout this book that my highlighted notes cover two or three pages on my Kindle, and I thought I would share some of my favorites so you can get a taste of what this sensational book has to offer.

“All that could be heard was the slow ticking of the metallic wall clock hanging next to a framed movie poster, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Joe got up and went to the window, studying the busy sparrows chirping in the redbud tree as he smoked.” - ahh, the imagery and innotation!!

And I must highlight the stunning relationship between Joe and Robert, the love of music they share is captured in a beautiful chapter where Mozart’s Adagio opens ‘like a fragile, pure white orchid, small and elegant’... and ‘beyond inborn talent and well-trained skill, Joe and Robert demonstrated an inner connection to music that was so personal, so deeply felt that to speak of it would destroy it. There was a connection between them that neither of them had felt before. It was if they shared the same blood, the same genes that let them communicate through sound and emotion.’

Ms Tiemeyer’s book reaches deep inside your heart and grabs hold, not letting go from the first to the last... the very essence of a profound storyteller whose words are crafted in such a way as to not feel heavy and overburdened with words, but delicate in just the right places, and intense in others, such as the heartbreaking moment Joe escapes to the woods to sort out his despair and thoughts, fleeing through tree branches, and the ‘disconsolation clung to him like the broken spider webs on his face.’ Again, simply stunning and such visual artistry!

I leave you with this passage to encapsulate all that this book gives a reader:

“Was this Purgatory? Was he suspended in a state of eternal despair, knowing that he would never get out? He stared out at the greenery, drinking in the stillness, the loamy, putrefying smell, the cool shade. He could stay here forever with the rocks and the mushrooms and the bugs and the rotting log he leaned against. Yet, he drew no comfort from this verdant place. He felt no spiritual uplifting as he had on countless hikes before. There was no joy, no pleasure, no happiness, no exuberance about being alive.’ - Haunting, and a place where most humans have been and can relate to Joe’s experience at some time in their life. And that is what this book is – relatable, for even if we never experienced the horrors of a concentration camp, we can, after all, empathize and put ourselves in Joe’s shoes, in Robert’s shoes, as well, and understand why they have the feelings they do. When we do that, compassion reigns, and is the reason why books like this one are so needed in the world in which we live.

A Brother for Sorrows by Anita Tiemeyer is awarded five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award by The Historical Fiction Company.


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