…by Hans Keilson.
Set during the WWII era, this novel is about a Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, who hide a Jewish salesman, Nico, in their home for a year. Nico comes into the couple’s life as a guest and eventually goes on to become a part of their routine as a friend. After spending a year in their home, hiding, fearing the worst every time someone new comes knocking on the doors, Nico passes away due to health issues. Wim and Marie are shocked; having to dispose his body at the earliest without getting noticed that they had been providing housing for a Jew proves to be a hard task. Although they do everything possible to make sure they conceal having their identities connected to the dead body, a small detail is overlooked which turns their lives upside down.
What happens next – How the couple handles the situation; what emotions come into play when they lose a big part of their lives; what they to do dispose Nico’s body; what happens after they get rid of Nico’s body – all this and more is delved into in this simple yet, dark, heart-wrenching tale.
As much as I loved reading the book for its story, what I liked more is how the author explores the details of couple’s concerns as hosts, Nico’s feelings as the guest, how the interaction between the three goes from being awkward in the beginning to blossoming into a friendship as days go by, how gradually they settle into their own roles with the passage of time. The writing is vivid and deep; the author navigates between the present and the past smoothly and takes the tale forward, capturing the reader’s attention with every word. The intimacy with which author brings to light the different emotions from each of the character’s perspective will bring the reader close to the character.
What stands out even days after finishing the book is how the author has so seamlessly put together a tale that portrays the “You’ll never understand what someone is going through until you walk a mile in their shoes” – while Wim and Marie do everything in their power to keep Nico safe under their roof, it’s not fair to say that they understood what it was to be Nico in that situation…that is until they find themselves hiding from the authorities after Nico passes away and experience the torment firsthand. This point is brought across in this beautiful narrative by making the reader truly connect with the characters and the plot.
Overall, a poignant tale that of kindness, love and tragedy that shouldn’t be missed…I highly recommend it.
My rating: 5*.
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