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Who Should Be Held Responsible for Public Wrongs? - an Editorial Review of "When We Return"

Book Blurb:

By 2008, it finally seems that the Peruvian government is ready to make amends to its citizens following the violent guerilla movement of the last three decades.

Otilia and Salvador, a mother and son torn apart during the conflict and separated for twenty years, are eager for the government to acknowledge their pain and suffering, but they hit a roadblock when the government denies responsibility in their legal case.

Things begin to look up when Otilia meets Jerry, a kind man and the son of Jewish parents who escaped the Holocaust. Grappling with his own upbringing and the psychological struggles his parents endured, Jerry is just the person to empathize with Otilia's situation. Together, Otilia, Jerry, and Salvador must support one another through the turbulent journey that is healing from historical trauma, and through it, they must find the courage to rebuild their lives and open themselves up to love and companionship.

Artfully weaving together different timelines and countries, Tobias examines the nuanced topic of grief a community endures after a collective tragedy. In this exploration of the culture of remembrance following displacement and loss, we discover what happens when our past calls us back to what we must do to achieve justice and reconciliation when we return.

Author Bio:

I was born in Santiago, Chile, to immigrant parents who escaped the Holocaust, I was educated in Canada and United States. I worked in Peru for two years and am the author of In the Belly of the Horse, published in 2017 by Inanna Publications, Toronto. The novel received an award from International Latino Book Awards in 2018, under the category of Best Latino-Focused Fiction - English, and was nominated for the Latino Books into Movies Awards in the Drama category. In 2019 the American Library Association showcased the book at their annual convention, in their Diversity in Publishing pavilion.

Editorial Review:

Get ready to come – there's talk reparations will come into effect.” These were the only word Otilia Perez heard when her son tried to explain why he was calling her at work. Seven years before, after a democratic government took power in Peru, a Truth and Reconciliation Committee was formed to look into complaints of human rights violations during years of civil conflict under past administrations. Otilia and Salvador patiently waited to be called to a hearing requesting compensation for families who'd been separated and forced to flee, as they had been.

When We Return makes a profound statement about reparations for past wrongs, such as the Holocaust and for other war crimes wrought upon people across the world. It also provides a great deal of historical enlightenment about the atrocities and human rights violations which occurred in Peru during thirty years of guerrilla warfare and political upheaval, much which mirrored the same horrors brought about by Hitler and the Third Reich.

He says we need to know how we water our dreams. Water them with worry and fear, and you will produce weeds that choke the life from you; water them with optimism and solutions, and you will cultivate success. Be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity; be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dreams. There are pains that don't go away. Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed; it means the damage no longer controls our lives.

This story brings two families together, their commonality in facing these trials, and how it forged their future. Otilia Perez lives a new life in California, yet she reconnects with her son after twenty years of separation. During the rise of the “people's war” in Peru, the Shining Path (a communist party that sought to overthrow the government using guerrilla warfare), many citizens faced extreme brutality from the group and disappeared without a trace. It was during this that Otilia and Salvador, her seven-year-old son, are separated as Otilia goes in search of her husband. Salvador manages to find his way back to his uncle, a crook who uses the opportunity to seize control of Otilia's property. Years pass and the violence increases, forcing Otilia to escape the country for her life.

Salvador grows up in this harsh environment, later becoming a forensic expert with the police department, and finds his mother living in California. With the government ready to “possibly” deliver reparations to the families who suffered, Otilia boards a plane to reconnect with her son and with the homeland she had to leave. While on the plane, she meets Jerry, a Jewish man whose father fled Czechoslovakia during WWII to Bolivia. Their connection, these two people suffering from the past atrocities, is a journey of self-realization, discovery, forgiveness, of facing trauma, and coming to understand their own courage to rebuild their lives and open themselves to love and family.

This museum is important,” Jerry said. “People have a responsibility to remember the events of the past and break the silence. I am the child of people who lived through the Holocaust and, when I was young, stories like these were not discussed. It's taken seventy years for Germany to pay homage to those who suffered injuries. History becomes distorted when an entire group's memories are not taken into account.”

In Jerry's story, the reader learns about Jerry's father, Milan, and his escape from the Nazi shadow, and how he learns to rebuild his life in the face of having to leave everything he knew behind. The culture and life in South America are vastly different, yet Milan falls in love with a young Bolivian girl, yet they are restricted from being together because of Milan's Jewish background. Milan eventually leaves for the United States, and again rebuilds his life there, marrying another Holocaust survivor and having a family. Jerry, his son, does not expect to one day, as a grown man, get a phone call from someone claiming to be a long-lost relative – the son of Milan and the Bolivian woman from Milan's past. Thus, this flight to South America is what brings Jerry and Otilia together... again, a journey that sheds light on so much pain and healing for victims of these war-torn times.

The lessons embedded deep in this story, that of loss, of displacement, of grief, of justice, and reconciliation remind the reader of the scourges still going on in the world today, of the Ukrainian refugees fleeing the brutality of war the same as the Jews fled Europe in the 1940s and as the Peruvians fled Peru in the 1980s. The story goes deep into a government's responsibility in paying reparations to the victims, and how memorials, such as the one in Peru and the Holocaust Museum in Washington help teach future generations of those horrific times. Not only that, but the story gives a voice to the victims and shows how it is possible to begin again, to start a new life, and that hope is forever eternal. This book will indeed stay with the reader long after the last page is turned, and shows a universal connectivity between humans no matter their background, culture, or location. Inhumanity and injustice are faced by so many and throughout the generations, and affect not only those who face it initially but also affects their offspring for generations. Profound and thought-provoking prose.

Our stories, our collective memories, are important – what we know, what we believe, our fears, the dangers, the hate, the disgust, the anger we feel – are not to be dismissed,”


When We Return” by Eliana Tobias receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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