Tuesday, April 14, 2020

BLOG TOUR: They Went Left by Monica Hesse

Title: They Went Left
Author: Monica Hesse
Genre: Young Adult - Historical Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 7, 2020
Acquired: Sent by publisher via Netgalley
Goodreads: ADD

Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else--her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja--they went left.

Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.

But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her--or help her rebuild her world.

It used to be that I sought out gut-wrenching narratives about WWII, fervently combed through shelves at bookstores or libraries for the trendy covers and titles that meant I'd find a specific type of loss within. It started with the horrors depicted in Night by Eli Wiesel, and continued with fictional 'imaginings' like Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and most recently, The Huntress by Kate Quinn. Every single one left me gutted, so much so that I needed a break, I needed to move on to happier occurrences. I decided that They Went Left would be my cautious return to the sub-genre; I would let it quietly guide me back into a space that had previously annihilated my heart. What a fool I was. To think that stories like this could be anything but loud, and all-consuming, and unimaginably important. They Went Left was all of those things, it was all of those things written in one of the most absolutely beautiful ways that I have EVER seen it written.

It begins with a family torn apart. Zofia recalls the moment she loses her family to Nazi control in her small Polish town. Her parents, aunt and grandmother are sent to their deaths, and she's separated from her brother as they continue, alive, on to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Now it's 1945, Zofia's camp has been liberated by the allies, and there's nothing else she wants more than to be reunited with her brother. Unlike hundreds of others searching for loved ones, Zofia refuses to stay put and write letters to various organizations and camps, and instead follows a blind lead to Germany. Propelled by faulty memories and a fierce love, her search leads to an unlikely place, and some unexpected truths.

Every single word in this book held purpose. Every moment was one torn straight from the desperate and irreparably damaged hearts of real-life survivors, from the very souls of the those who found luck on their side but also permanent pain as it's consequence. Hesse's characters were, without a doubt, some of the most real and well-depicted characters I've ever read. Not just in a WWII narrative, but ever. She touched on the harsh realities of the camps, but They Went Left focused mainly on the few months following liberation, and what it meant to search for normalcy in the midst of a still-lingering chaos. Zofia's character never felt forced, or sensationalized. Her thoughts, her feelings, her actions, it was raw and honest to the point of feeling unbearable, to where I literally felt transported to her place of urgency, her desperation. Even the conclusion, with all of the possible ways for it to feel gimmicky, and contrived, was executed with a hand that sought only to shed light on very likely realities. It was done with grace and with care. 

I don't think I'll stop thinking about this book for a very long time, and I'll be hard-pressed to find anything that comes close to it.

Read if you like:

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Key themes: 
WWII, the Holocaust, family, love, desperation, journey, healing 


Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Post writing about gender and its impact on society. She lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.

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1 comment:

  1. There was a scene in which she has
    chance to explain to her mother exactly what's been happening.


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