Sharon Hart-Green. Come Back for Me

Come Back for Me by Sharon Hart-Green reveals the ripple effects of the Holocaust on two generations of a Jewish family.  The author told me, “The Holocaust survivors I have known have always intrigued me– especially their ability to live relatively ‘normal’ lives after the war. I think that (on an unconscious level) I was trying to understand them by writing this book. I wanted to explore the question: what was the element in their lives that gave them the strength to go on after all they have lost?”  The Historical Novel Society selected this superbly written and well-researched novel as their Editor’s Choice Book.

The story takes place on two time lines, following Artur Mandelkorn in Hungary during the war, moving to

Israel and briefly the UK in the years after WWII, and in Canada in the 1960’s following Suzy Kohn. 

Without a spoiler, the timelines meet after the Six Day War.  Many previously unknown questions are answered, although when dealing with the horrors of the Holocaust, not much can be resolved.

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The inherited trauma, which research shows stretches to the 3rd generation as well, affects many areas of life. Sharon notes, “the ripples continue in various forms: survivor guilt, desire to escape one’s Jewish identity; ‘blaming the victim’ syndrome; extremist religious piety; antagonism to religion; hostility to all forms of nationalism, etc. The list goes on.” 

 

In our modern timeline in the 1960’s, the family of Suzy Kohn, whose connections to Artur Mandelkorn are later revealed, has become assimilated in Toronto. A telling symbol is their menorah, which the parents bring up for Chanukah and then forget to light it. As Sharon comments, this “represents the negligent attitude of many Jews toward their heritage.”

 

The Holocaust timeline occurs in Hungary, invaded late in the war, in 1944.  Artur Mandelkorn survives, although like most Jewish survivors, finds the majority of his family murdered. Eventually, he makes his way to Israel.

 

The novel has four basic geographic centers: Hungary, Canada, the UK, and Israel. Each has its very distinct personality and life style.  Sharon mapped it out this way:

 

“Hungary represents a home that is no longer welcoming; Canada and the UK are places of refuge, yet require some degree of sacrifice of one’s Jewish identity; and Israel is the place where one can be a Jew without apology.”

 

Like our Biblical patriarchs and Matriarch Sarah, many of the characters change or modify their names.  Sharon explains that for some, like Artur, this changing of names signifies both “the external and internal upheavals in his life.”  With others, like Suzy, it is a means of acceptance or assimilation into the Canadian non-Jewish society.

 

Unlike many apologists, Sharon refreshingly reveals the positive role Israel plays in the novel for so many characters. She shared, that “my heart is deeply entwined with the land and the people. It is not a utopia (nor should we want it to be one, as things never end well with utopian schemes!), but it is a place where Jews can legitimately take pride in building a society of their own.”

 

The novel is not only about Holocaust trauma across the generations. It is also a story about finding freedom and love. Sharon told me, “I think that Israel plays a redemptive role in the novel, not in the religious sense of the word, but in the sense of it being a pivotal source of Jewish self-reliance and creativity. It is the place in the novel where the key characters find a community where they can live without fear and self-denial—which also frees them to find love.”

"I love Israeli food! Here’s an Israeli-inspired salad I make quite frequently," Sharon told me when I asked about a favorite recipe. She adds an avocado. Quite scrumptious and I'm sure Suzy and Artur would love it!

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