Review: Once We Were Brothers ~ Ronald H. Balson

Once we were borthersElliot 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, the Butcher of Zamosc. Although the charges are denounced as preposterous, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice. Solomon persuades attorney Catherine Lockhart to take his case, revealing that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family only to betray them during the Nazi occupation. But has Solomon accused the right man?

3 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel from this Author and was recommended to me for review by a Polish survivor of the camps.

I was pulled into this book from the first chapter, and found myself returning to read more at every opportunity I got.  However, the characters portrayed in the book came across as being rather flat.  The person I perceived as being the main protagonist was under-developed and could have been given so much more depth by the Author; there seemed to be so much more that could have been written into his background that would have turned him from the old befuddled fool that came out of the pages into a strong and resilient character that showed the human spirit can endure things we never think possible.  Certain players in this novel professed to know nothing about the Holocaust, and this added an air of incredulity to the novel.  I felt that if the Author had invested more time into the development of their characters, and explored the complexity of the human soul, they would have turned this book around and made it into something more than it actually is.  Readers need to be aware that there are also some characters thrown into this book that are never heard from again, making one wonder what the point of including them in the first place actually was.  Unless the Author was trying in some way to reflect how people suddenly ‘vanished’ during these years, it may have been better not to include them at all rather than to leave the reader wondering what happened to them and how the events taking place affected them.  I really couldn’t connect with any of the characters in this novel, and that is not because I’ve not walked the path they did, it was just because they were so one-dimensional with no endearing traits at all.

Taking place in two eras, World War II and the present day, it was hard to accept that they were part of the same novel.  In writing this book it is apparent that the Author spent a great deal of time researching the historical aspects of the pogrom in Poland, but not nearly enough time as some of the things that are written as facts are actually a little off skew.  Despite this the historical parts of the book are extremely well written, and it was these parts more than anything that made this a page turner for me; to the point where when the storyline returned to modern-day, I just wanted to hurry through them to get back to the past.  In comparison to the skilful way in which the Author wrote about World War II, its run up and the way it affected the Jews in Poland, the modern-day storyline was rather weakly written, and it is in this portion of the book that I found the plot to be rather predictable.

I wouldn’t say this was a must read for anyone that is interested in this period of time and the depravity that accompanied it in some countries in Europe, but I will recommend it as a book that breathes a new life into a dismal subject as it looks at this whole area from a different viewpoint.  Unfortunately, it could have used the talents of an expert editor in many places to polish out the rather amateurish feel it had, and this is what led to my rating it as I have.


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