Eli’s Promise

St. Martin’s. Sept. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781250271464. $27.99. F
In 1939, Eli Rosen and his father Jakob operate a construction firm in Lublin, Poland, respected by all. Then the Germans invade and life grows steadily hellish. Years before, they’d hired Maximilian “Max” Poleski, giving him a job when he sorely needed one. Now it’s his turn, a non-Jew with connections to the invaders, to help them. This book is about Max’s treachery and Eli’s search to find him and make him pay for it. The chapters shuttle among three times and places: 1939–41, Lublin: Max’s betrayal of the Rosens and the Rosens’ disappearance into the camps; 1945–47, various displaced-person camps, Eli’s survival and hunt for Max; 1965–66, Chicago, the same quest 20 years later, entwined with the tale of a corrupt congressman. Terrible things happen but somehow never feel quite real: The characters don’t have texture. The Nazi villains are monstrous and Max is a monster, but the Americans, bad and good guys both, are cardboard and the plot in this section of the book veers steadily toward melodrama.
VERDICT Balson (The Girl from Berlin) has written on this subject with success, but this time, it doesn’t come off. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/20.]
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