Friday, May 16, 2014

The One I Was by Eliza Graham

For Benjamin Goldman, 11, the Kindertransport is a life-saver.  Oh, sure, he's homesick, but the people in England are nice and there is always plenty to eat at the refugee camp.  No one seemed interested in fostering Benny, though, except one nicely dressed man, but then, all he does is give him a chocolate bar and leave.

Nevertheless, next thing Benny knows is that his name is being called, and he is told that he and some other boys would be living at Fairfleet, the estate of Lord and Lady Dorner.  And life at Fairfleet is pretty good, with private tutoring lessons for the boys, plenty of good food and even time for recreation and dreaming.  But, Benny, who always keeps his distance from the other boys, is still haunted by things that had happened in Germany, and he just can't forget about his best friend, Rudi Lange.

The boys' benefactress, Lady Harriet Dorner, is a pilot who is often away, flying planes in the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Still, when she was at Fairfleet, it seems she and Benny shared some kind of connection, which, as the years go by, becomes a deeper mutual attraction.  Nothing comes of it and after the war, Benny leaves Fairfleet and goes on to a successful career as a journalist.

Now, many years later, Benny is one his deathbed, and a hospice nurse has come to care for him - at Fairfleet, which Benny had purchased after a forced sale.  Little does he know at first that his nurse, Rose Madison, is really Rosamond Hunter, granddaughter of Lady Dorner and a person haunted by her own ghosts of the past at Fairfleet.  But, as the days go by, Benny begins to sense something about Rose that doesn't feel right.

When a threat from Rose's childhood at Fairfleet shows up again, and begins make new threats, Rose finds she must confess her own secret in order to keep everyone safe.

And as Benny comes closer to death, it becomes clear to Rose that he needs to make his own confession of something regarding his life in Germany as a young boy.  And when he finally does, it is a stunner!

There is a lot going on in Eliza Graham's novel The One I Was.  It moves between three time periods that connect Benny and Rosamond's individual stories to each other, though they are strangers when they meet.   The red thread that ties them together is, of course, Lady Harriet Dorner.  And though I would classify this novel as historical fiction, it is also a mystery and a thriller.

Benny's story gives the reader lots of interesting, realistic background into life in Nazi Germany in 1939, as well as life in England both during and after WWII.  Graham has done her research on both early time periods and so there is an authentic blending together of events that keeps the continuity of the storyline going nicely, and framed by the present time.

Each of the characters are drawn with such depth and personality that you feel a compelling need to keep reading their story.  The overriding theme of The One I Was is the idea of reinventing oneself and why that may be done.  In the end, after reading Benny's confession, you may even find yourself in a bit of a moral dilemma regarding his actions.  There is no denying that Benny's story is thought provoking, but remember, hard times call for hard decisions and Benny was only a child when he made his fateful decision.

This is the kind of crossover novel I would have read and loved when I was about 15 years old and still straddling the worlds of young adult and adult novels.  It has some mild violence and equally mild sexual content, but nothing a young adult reader hasn't come across already.

I One I Was is a nice meaty novel that is sure to leave you feeling satisfied.

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This book was received from the author

This is book 7 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
This is book 3 of my 2014 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader  

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