Julie Thomas’ new novel, Rachel’s Legacy, did something very rare, it turned out to be better than the first book in the series. No mean feat as I thought the first, The Keeper of Secrets was excellent.
It is sixty years since the end of the Second World War, but the subject of wartime art looting is still very topical. Recent movies such as The Woman in Gold and The Monument’s Men have used it to great advantage. This novel also has it as a central theme. We pick up on the previous history of the Horowitz family, German Jews who suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazi regime. In the first novel we followed a priceless violin which was taken from them by the Nazis, looted by the Russians, and eventually returned to the hands of a Horowitz, in the form of a brilliant young violin prodigy growing up in America.
Rachel’s Legacy concerns another looted treasure, this time a priceless painting by the German artist Albrecht Dürer. But Rachel’s real legacy was a daughter, Elizabeth, whom she gave up as a baby in 1942 to protect her from the Nazis. Raised by a family of Christian farmers, her adopted parents removed her from Germany soon after the war and went to live in Australia. Elizabeth brought up her own three children with little reference to Germany and it is only when her own son Kobi has some old letters translated from Hebrew that the truth begins to gradually emerge.
The story of human relationships is beautifully and movingly crafted. When Elizabeth meets with what is left of a family she never knew she had, so many conflicting emotions are raised and beautifully handled by Julie Thomas. Any story that can bring a tear to the eye has certainly been well written.
Thomas’ style is all about the flowing narrative and the plot. There is so much happening all the way through the book that the reader’s attention is always busy. She is not about description, and I realised as I finished the book that I really had no idea what the Dürer portrait looked like. I know that every hair on the man’s head is painted with tiny brush strokes, but I have absolutely no idea of the colours or the detail. That is Thomas’ style; it is all about the story and the plot with just enough detail for the reader to form their own picture. Her characters are excellent, believable and realistic and that is all she needs to craft a brilliantly enjoyable novel.
Julie Thomas is a close neighbour to us here in the Bay, living just over the other side of the Kaimais. From a writer’s perspective I find the story of her first novel fascinating. She gave up her media job and sold up her house in Auckland before moving to Cambridge and then in September 2011 put her first novel onto Amazon and Smashwords. It went on to sell 50,000 copies and so was picked up by HarperCollins who published it in 2013. Rachel’s Legacy is now her third novel and there is one more volume to come in the story of the Horowitz family. Personally I can’t wait for that one next year.
Marcus Hobson, ARTbop Literary Editor, regular book reviewer, writer, and Secretary of the Tauranga Writers, Marcus has been, and continues to be, lots of things. An aspiring author of both novels and reviews, he has always said he wants to be a writer and 40 years later is making that come true. He has in the past done such varied things as study ancient and mediaeval history at Uni in London, worked as an archaeologist, as an economist in central and southern Africa, and as truck driver in a quarry. About two years ago he relocated to the beautiful Bay from a finance job in Auckland. He is a lover of art, the written word and a full time fanatical book collector, with over 3,000 volumes on his shelves. He lives close to Katikati with his wife and sometimes their three daughters, two cats, a library and the odd chicken. Marcus is currently working on a “factional” work about World War One.
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