Book Review: Gratitude by Joseph Kertes

“This story has haunted me my whole life and I am writing a novel inspired by a family anecdote. The events in my story occurred before my time. But I have tried to create a novel around these people, turned them into characters and given them lives. What the story says to me—and what I hope sets it apart from others on the subject—is that all of us—victims, perpetrators, Christians, Jews, saints and criminals alike—are capable of making mistakes with tragic consequences.” – Joe Kertes

In a captivating sequence of events, Joseph Kertes introduces emotionally riveting characters. Set during the Second World War, Gratitude spins a tale of a Hungarian Jewish family and the people they meet along the way.

The opening scene follows the actions of Lili Bandel, a 16-year-old who was presented her mother’s bridal dress in the early morning before German militia arrives and has her hiding behind a wardrobe in her parents’ bedroom. Her birthday cake burns in the oven downstairs as Lili is left to wonder about the fate of her family. From her optimistic journey searching for her missing family, Lili ventures from Tolgy into Budapest where she is found by the Beck family.

Through cuts and flashbacks, members of the Hungarian Jewish Beck family are connected, loved, separated and lost, as a waging period of darkness leaves many unsettled.

Each character manages to ensnare you to follow their path. Lili with her charm and wit; her saviour Dr. Robert Beck and his wife Klari and son Simon; Istvan Beck, and Paul Beck tell their own tale of life, love and misfortune; their courage, anguish and laughter.

What appears at first glance to be shallow philosophical-thinking characters, you become drawn into their passions and human flaws and watch as they rapidly grow, adapting to losses and pain.

Kertes brilliantly writes about the ability of mankind’s darkest moment, and with the same hand wield an unending contrast of surprising humanitarian aid. The Second World War is wrought with death and torture, but through it comes joy and happiness. Kertes draws the epic novel to a close on Jan. 17, 1945, on a high note of marriage and a new day.

Gratitude is a novel that explores the intricate balance of the human psyche and its emotional and physical desperations. It blends itself into a torn family portrait where a group of people are tossed together and learn to live in a broken European empire.

Biography:

Joseph Kertes was born in Hungary but escaped with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956. Encouraged in writing by Irving Layton and Marshall McLuhan, Kertes studied English at York University and the University of Toronto

He founded Humber College’s distinguished creative writing and comedy programs, where he is currently Humber’s Dean of Creative and Performing Arts.  He is a recipient of numerous awards for teaching and innovation.

Four previous written works have been met with acclaim: his first novel, Winter Tulips, won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. His second novel, Boardwalk, and two children’s books, The Gift (Groundwood) and The Red Corduroy Shirt (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), were received with praise.

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