Friday, October 04, 2019

Book Review: Being Lena Levi by Bobbie Ann Cole

One of the perks of being an artist is enjoying the art of your talented friends. 
Today's review falls into that category!

I first met Bobbie Anne Cole when she attended our Infinitely More concert in Pennfield, NB. At that time, she gave me her inspiring first book, She Does Not Fear The Snow. Since then, Bobbie has moved to England and continues to write and teach.

When I saw she had written a new novel, I jumped at the chance to review it. If you saw my reading list from 2018, you'll know that WWII became an unexpected theme in my choices of fiction. Well, it seems to be a theme I can't escape! (Or maybe, a theme I keep pursuing? I'll let the psychology students hash that one out...)

Being Lena Levi starts five years after WWII. Young Marlene returns home from school one day to find her mother acting uncomfortably and a strange woman in their living room. When Marlene asks about the stranger, her mother tells her, "She's your mother."

Marlene, born Lena, discovers she's not a born-and-bred English schoolgirl. Instead, she's German Jew, who had been sent to England on a Kindertransport to escape the horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust. Her birth mother, her "Mutti," has finally returned to bring her home.

What ensues is a romp through England and Israel as Lena takes on the challenge of discovering her true identity. Who is her "real" mother? How can she reconcile her Christian faith with her Jewish heritage? And what is the real country that shapes us?

Lena, Mum and Mutti are all strong and wonderful characters. 
Through each, we see different versions of passion, family, and independence, 
all reflecting their unique upbringing and life circumstances. 

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is the opportunity to learn about little known chapters of human history. With all my WWII reading, I'd never heard of the Kindertransport and its legacy on the lives of German and English families. To save their children, Jewish German parents put their children on trains and sent them off to England, with the hopes that they'd be safe through the war. The initial separations caused tremendous pain to German families. Over the years, many children, especially young ones, made deep bonds with their English foster parents. Reunions were often complicated, especially as German parents struggled with the physical, emotional, and financial toll of the war and the Holocaust. Many parents never returned, leaving a lifetime of unanswered questions for their children. Bobbie uses detailed research to share a fascinating piece of history with heart and passion.

Being Lena Levi is categorized as "young adult" or "adult fiction" and I think it works for both age groups. The fast pace makes it a quick and engaging read for adults. I think teenagers, in particular, will identify with Lena and her fierce independence in the face of a such a life-changing discovery.

I encourage you to pick up your copy of Being Lena Levi 
and discover this charming heroine and her fascinating journey!

You can learn more about Bobbie and her beautiful writing at 

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