They Went Left
By: Monica Hesse
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 7th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered:Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else--her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja--they went left. Zofia's last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef,who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her--or help her rebuild her world.
Eighteen-year old Zofia Lederman has been liberated from Gross-Rosen concentration camp and has finally recovered enough to leave the hospital. Zofia has been confused, she is forgetting things and has false memories. Zofia desperately wants to find who she believes is the last living member of her family, her younger brother Abek. Zofia promised Abek that she would find him after everything and that is exactly what she plans to do. Upon returning to her home, Zofia finds it empty, looted with no sign of Abek. Zofia learns that many people from concentration camps went to displaced persons camps, so Zofia makes her way to the camp her brother would most likely be in, Foehrenwald. In Foehrenwald, Zofia meets many others just like her, confused and looking for lost family members. Zofia connects with Josef, who seems as damaged as her and with a secret. As Zofia gets closer to finding Abek, her memories of the last time she saw him form.
They Went Left is a poignant and heartfelt look at what happened to those who were liberated after World War II. Often when I read books about World War II, the end of the book corresponds to the end of the War. However, that was not the end of the hardship and suffering for anybody involved. Zofia's story highlights the unique struggles that someone liberated from a concentration camp went through: displacement, searching for loved ones who may or may not be alive, not knowing who to trust including yourself and continued hatred. The writing deftly conveys the dual feelings of hopefulness and sadness, uncertainty and confidence, bravery and fearfulness that people had in this time. Through Zofia, Josef, Abek and the many people in Foehrenwald, the variety of trials and triumphs of the time are highlighted. The story is told entirely through Zofia's point of view and is absolutely absorbing and fascinating to see her slowly transition from confused but committed to finding her brother to more sure of herself and accepting of what has happened. I loved the device of the family alphabet that Zofia created in order to help her brother remember. It served as a great way to get to know Zofia's family before the War. Overall, They Went Left is a genuine and deeply affecting story of the world people faced after World War II.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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Monica Hesse is the NewYork Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat,American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Postwriting about gender and its impact on society. She lives outside Washington, D.C.with her husband and their dog.