by Ronald H. Balson
Published September 22, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Genre: Historical Fiction
A “fixer” in a Polish town during WWII, his betrayal of a Jewish family, and a search for justice 25 years later—by the winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
Eli’s Promise is a masterful work of historical fiction spanning three eras—Nazi-occupied Poland, the American Zone of post-war Germany, and Chicago at the height of the Vietnam War, all tied together by a common thread. Award-winning author Ronald H. Balson explores the human cost of war, the mixed blessings of survival, and the enduring strength of family bonds.
1939: Eli Rosen lives with his wife Esther and their young son in the Polish town of Lublin, where his family owns a construction company. As a consequence of the Nazi occupation, Eli’s company is Aryanized, appropriated and transferred to Maximilian Poleski—an unprincipled profiteer who peddles favors to Lublin’s subjugated residents, and who knows nothing at all of construction. An uneasy alliance is formed; Poleski will keep the Rosen family safe if Eli will manage the business. Will Poleski honor his promise or will their relationship end in betrayal and tragedy?
1946: Eli resides with his son in a displaced persons camp in Allied occupied Germany hoping for a visa to America. His wife has been missing since the war. One man may know what has happened to her. Is he the same man who is now sneaking around the camps selling illegal visas?
1965: Eli Rosen rents a room in Albany Park, Chicago. He is on a mission. With patience, cunning, and relentless focus, Eli navigates Chicago’s unfamiliar streets and dangerous political backrooms, searching for the truth. Powerful and emotional, Eli’s Promise is a rich, rewarding novel of World War II and a husband’s quest for justice.
Ronald Balson has written an excellent book of historical fiction. It grabbed me right from the first page, with the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp by the U.S. Army and our introduction to the titular Eli and his son Izaak. There are lots of promises in this novel but the main one Eli makes is to bring the black marketer Max to justice and to find out what happened to his (Eli’s) wife.
The story takes place during World War II in Poland, specifically in Lublin and Lodz, and in the years immediately following the war in Displaced Persons camps. The story also jumps to the mid-1960s in Chicago. The author states in the Acknowledgments that “Eli’s Promise is at its heart a story about corruption and war profiteering.”
I didn’t care for the portion of the story in Chicago as much as the story that took place during and after World War II, but the theme remained the same: corruption and war profiteering.
The author doesn’t specify how Eli got his visa to get to the US or how he came to his American job. I would have liked to read about both those things.
Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this book.