Eli’s Promise: A Novel
Eli Rosen is too weak to walk when he is rescued from the Buchenwald concentration camp by U. S. soldiers and reunited with his young son. As he regains his strength, Eli embarks on a quest to find his wife, Esther, in the rubble of post-war Europe.
Ronald Balson skillfully weaves the novel’s plot over twenty years while maintaining an engaging pace with a series of seamless flashbacks. Furthermore, he integrates the complexities and the scope of the systematic dehumanization of Jews before, during, and after World War II. While the dialogue and characterization are a bit clunky, the story captures the insidiousness of war profiteers throughout history.
When the Nazis attack his home in Lublin, Poland, Eli is uniquely positioned to survive the invasion despite his Jewishness: His family’s construction business and skills are valuable assets to the Nazis. The invaders seize the business and name the Rosens’ shifty employee, Maximilian Poleski, operator of the brickyard. As the violence against the Jewish community intensifies, Maximilian exploits the Rosens’ desperation for his gain and ultimately separates Eli’s family.
What sets this novel apart from the large canon of World War II literature is Balson’s decision to focus on the years before and after Eli’s imprisonment. The impossible choices Eli makes to remain free, and the impossible quest to atone for those choices, create a border of light, hope, and love around the darkest event in history. Balson forces readers to straddle hope and despair to get a sense of the life-long tightrope walk Eli and millions of others performed to survive before and after the Holocaust.