By: Ronald H. Balson
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Who Should Read This: Anyone interested in World War II/Holocaust/historical fiction will really take a liking to this book.
Synopsis (from Goodreads): From Nazi-occupied Poland to a Chicago courtroom Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fundraiser when he is suddenly accosted and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek. Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser, Ben Solomon, is convinced he is right. Solomon urges attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that Otto Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon's family only to betray them during the Nazi occupation. But has he accused the right man? Once We Were Brothers is the compelling tale of two boys and a family that struggles to survive in war-torn Poland. It is also the story of a young lawyer who must face not only a powerful adversary, but her own self-doubts.
My Thoughts: I feel like I should preface by saying that some parts of this book were difficult to get through. I won’t go into too many details, as to not give anything away, but I found myself cringing my way through parts due to the intensity of the situation. I listened to this as an audiobook and had to shut it off once or twice because of the intensity. It is still a hard concept to me that these travesties happened. What is even worse is that they still happen today. There are so many prejudices in this world, and this book definitely makes one think about how we all turned a blind eye and still do today.
Most of the story is told by Ben, who is absolutely adorable. I pictured him as this short, thin, warm character. His love for his wife Hannah is extremely enviable and I found myself enthralled in the story of his family and what happened to them during the war. The author created a very determined and strong willed protagonist, but also gave this soft side to him that makes the reader just fall in love with him. From the very beginning of the book when Ben confronts Elliot I was hooked and couldn’t stop listening. The book has chapters that look through the view point of Elliot who begins an investigation to try and find this Otto man so he can clear his name and show Ben that he has the wrong man. Other chapters the reader sees what Catherine is going through and how she doesn’t know what to believe. You can relate to her struggles because she has just recently put her life back together and now here is a man who wants her to take a case on for pro bono, and not only that, but he wants her to take on one of the most revered men in Chicago.
The struggles of each of the characters in this book are relatable, and I found myself invested in them. The author did a great job in getting me interested right away, and he continued the mystery of the identity of Otto all through the book. Although at times I had to walk away from it, I found myself equally drawn to it and going over in my head the why’s and what if’s. The only complaint I really have about the book is that sometimes Catherine seemed a little too dramatic for me. Yes, it was a stressful situation and case, but I found that I started to question whether she was going to be able to handle the responsibility of figuring out the case. I can’t complain too much though because there were also parts where she was such a badass, and I liked how the author made the lawyer a woman because not only did he portray someone who can kick some butt, but also a character with that nurturing and compassionate side. Not that a man can’t have those qualities! J I urge readers to pick this book up. It will make you question humanity, but also show you that it is not completely hopeless. Love definitely overpowers evil. Elie Wiesel was right though when he said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference…”