The blurb reads,
Every family has secrets, but some are far darker, reach deeper, and touch a rawer nerve than others.
The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Vanesa Neuman’s childhood in the cramped intimacy of south Tel Aviv is shadowed by her parents’ unspoken wartime experiences. The past for her was a closed book… until her father passes away and that book falls literally open. Vanesa must now unravel the mystery of the diary she has received—and the strange symbol within—at all costs.
From Jerusalem, to the backstreets of Prague, and into the former “paradise ghetto” of Theresienstadt, Vanesa’s journey of understanding will reveal a seventy-year-old secret darker than she could have ever imagined.
So, I’ll admit I picked this book up simply because I had been to Prague in May this year and I wanted to sort of use the book to relive my experiences. I sat down to read the book on a Saturday and woah! I just read it cover to cover the same day!
The Second World War was an aberration, where people forgot their humanity and degraded to previously unheard of levels. It was appalling for me to go to Dachau (a concentration camp off Munich) and experience firsthand what the Nazis had done. I shudder to think of Auschwitz and the terror there.
In that context, Galerie is an absolute thriller. I’ve been to those Jewish Museums in Prague and it immediately got me thinking, wondering whether there was something dark and seedy about that picture perfect city.
Reading about Vanessa’s mother’s life and the experiences in Terezin was harsh, but kudos to the author for laying down facts brutally. I figure that is what is the key with WWII fiction, you cannot twist fact hard enough, the rabid emotions stuck within the twisted fabric of reality do enough damage without the author rupturing through them with fiction.
Vanesa was not a character I liked. Really. But I felt for her. Her parents had been through a lot. And her childhood suffered because of that. And I grieved, wondering how many such children grew up living in permanently broken homes. A genocide of such a vast magnitude leaves its mark somewhere or the other.
The book was thrilling and I was so fascinated about discovering what Galerie was. I coursed through pages, and took breaks only to see images of Terezin and other concentration camps. It hurt to see them and it pushed me to read the book faster.
Vanesa’s journey was fast paced and interesting. The POV that the story adopts is very unique and brings a tender yet a detached way of reporting the events.
As much as I hate typing this, there were issues in this. I don’t really know how inspiration struck Vanesa about the symbol and somehow, her discovery of what Galerie was seemed to be hurried through. That was a bit of a let down because the rest of the book was so great.
And when I think about the book, if I detach the WWII portion of the book and apply the mystery to another normal circumstance, one that does not evoke such strong reactions, I don’t really suppose it would have been that great a story. The aura that WWII creates is itself so raw and the injustice done so,… so widely diffused and reported, that it seeps into the story and gives you a tinge of bias trying to recreate it within the whole warped world that WWII created and left behind.
The book did make me think of a lot of things. Jews, Israel, religious conflicts in the world, anti Hindu conflicts in India, and it did give me a lot of food for thought. It was a good mind jogging exercise that came as a result of reading this book.
I am a little confused about recommending this one. Vanesa, as a character, did not really grow on me and the cold and methodical way the book proceeded often ends up depleting you. But it has a remarkable pace and force which make it an excellent read.
My Rating: A very confused 4/5