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Once We Were Brothers: Book Review

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Once We Were Brothers

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Offhand I should warn you, this one is a bit of a tear-jerker. If you're reading it in a warm, cozy bed with a glass of wine I assure you, the tears will come.

Once We Were Brothers is a historical fiction novel by Ronald H. Balson about two boys growing up together during the Holocaust, one of them German, and one of them Jewish.

It starts out with a man pointing a gun to another man's head. We come to find out that the man with the gun is Ben Solomon, accusing an upstanding member of Chicago, Elliot Rosenzweig, of being a Nazi. Not only that, but he accuses Elliot of having stolen jewelry, money, and other goods from Ben and his family during wartime Germany.

As the story unfolds, we are told through Ben's recollections to lawyer Catherine Lockhart that he and Elliot grew up together in Poland in the 1930's, just before Hitler's Nazi regime took a foothold. Once it did, Elliot, known then as Otto Piatek, joined the Reich so the Solomon family could have someone on the inside in case they needed help. They later entrusted Otto with their money and jewelry to keep it safe from the Nazi's, but were never able to recover all of it when it came time to escape.

Lockhart, a young Chicago lawyer with her own set of problems, is initially reluctant to help Ben with his case against Elliot. She listens attentively to Ben as he recounts his treacherous story from beginning to end, struggling to find enough evidence to take the case to trial.

Once We Were Brothers quickly becomes a book hard to put down as we learn more about Ben and Elliot's history together, and whether or not Ben is actually telling the truth about Elliot being a Nazi.

Ronald Balson's work is a treat to read from beginning to end, told with careful and insightful storytelling. The depth of his historical research is painstakingly apparent as he creates an atmosphere of sheer terror for the Jews as Germany invades Poland. His descriptions were almost so convincing, I felt like Balson actually witnessed it. Though treacherous in nature, Balson also interweaves love and sacrifice into the devastation that was the Holocaust, ensuring there was a fitting balance of good and evil, which I can always appreciate.

I haven't read a good fiction novel in awhile, since I've been covering mostly non-fiction, and this was a welcome change to my reading list. If historical fiction is your thing, this one is done extremely well in terms of research, and it's worth a read.

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