Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Review: In Another Time by Jillian Cantor

Would you have left Germany in the years leading up to World War II? It's easy to sit at this historical remove and declare that you would have seen the imminent danger and the toxic, spreading hate and left. But so many people didn't leave. For those with the money and the ability to go, especially the Jews with the money and ability to go, why didn't they? What kept them tied to a Germany becoming increasingly hostile to them? Jillian Cantor's newest novel looks at one young Jewish woman who chose to stay and the young Christian man who loved her and vowed to protect her.

In 1931, when bookstore owner Max Beissinger stumbles into the wrong auditorium at the Lyceum, he is transfixed by the magical violin music he hears and the lovely young woman playing it. Despite her horror at his accidental intrusion on her practice session, they eventually come together and fall in love. Their road is not an easy one though. Hanna is a Jew and Max is not. Max disappears for weeks and months at a time with no contact beyond a simple goodbye letter, never telling Hanna where he has been nor inviting her to join him. But they manage to come back together each time something tears them apart, seemingly fated to be with each other, in defiance of the rising anti-Semitism as Hitler gains more and more power. Max begs Hanna to leave Germany as freedom after freedom is curtailed but she refuses, saying that she is a German, Germany is her country too, and as an aspiring concert violinist, she will come to no one's notice. Max worries until he opens a forbidden closet in his bookstore. What's inside convinces him he can keep Hanna safe.

When Hanna opens her eyes in a cold field in 1946, she is convinced that she had just been in the bookstore with Max when four SA men broke into the shop.  How she got to the field and where Max is are both mysteries.  In fact, it's been a decade since that night and she has amnesia. Taken in by a kindly nun and then her older sister who thought she'd died in the Holocaust, Hanna struggles with the missing decade of her life and whatever happened to Max. Her violin is the only thing she has to hold onto and she works towards making a living as a musician even as it strains her relationship with her sister. Healthy in body but with her traumatic amnesia seemingly permanent, she has to bring herself back to life through the music that still lives within her. She will always love Max, searching for him in the memories she cannot access, playing her violin like fire, and finding the passion within her.

The novel is told moving back and forth in time between Max and Hanna. Hanna's story only starts in 1946 as she tries to build a new life without knowing her past. Max's chapters start in 1931 and tell the story of the two of them meeting and falling in love as Max tracks Hitler's rise. Nothing that Max tells illuminates Hanna's missing years, leaving the reader as in the dark about her whereabouts during the war as she is. He tells of the years of their pre-war relationship and the reason behind his occasional months long absences that threaten to break them up. But he never tells Hanna why or where he's gone thinking she will never believe him. Their two stories work towards a crescendo of memory, loss, and enduring love in their two different timelines.

Cantor knows how to write engaging stories and this is no exception. Max and Hanna's relationship is occasionally volatile but their love feels real and strong. The mystery of Hanna's missing ten years and Max's whereabouts underpins almost the entire story and the reader is eager to find out the answers to these two questions as well as whether they can find each other and be together "in another time."  There is a speculative fiction piece to the story that feels out of place in this otherwise captivating novel. This piece is underdeveloped and comes rather out of the blue. It does offer another potential answer to Hanna's missing years but it sits strangely beside the otherwise realistic and emotional story of two lovers facing the coming danger of the Holocaust. Hanna and Max are well drawn and the secondary characters anchor them in time and place. This is a well-written and affecting, very different look at both pre-war Germany and post-war London and Europe and the people whose lives were rent apart by a terrible war.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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