While I had a list of books I intended to read this year, my interests took me down a different path. Specifically, I became very interested in reading books about the Holocaust. I’m not sure how many I’ve read this year, but I’d say at least 5 or 6.
When I was given the opportunity to read Out of the Shoebox: An Autobiographic Mystery by Yaron Reshef, I was happy to do so.
The story is powerful and moving, unlike any Holocaust book I’ve read.
Reshef’s immediate family was spared from the Holocaust because his father immigrated to Israel in the 1930s. He later married a woman from his hometown and brought her to Israel, too. Reshef’s father died when he was fairly young of a heart attack. Reshef was only 7 years old.
The book opens when Reshef receives a phone call notifying him that his father, along with another man, might have owned a plot of land. Reshef is the closest relative, and the land can be his if he can prove a connection between the two men (his father and the other man) as well as the address where his father would have resided when the land was bought.
The problem? His father had long since died, and his mother, though still alive, was over 100 years old and was often non-communicative.
This one phone call about land leads Reshef on a search to find the answer to the two requirements to get the land. What he finds is much more.
Reshef’s Journey Into the Past
While the information Reshef is searching for is straight forward enough, finding it is difficult thanks to immigration, name changes, and the amount of time that has passed.
Along the way, Reshef’s journey takes a different turn. He knows that almost all members of his mother’s and father’s families died in the Holocaust. However, like many second generation Holocaust survivors, he did not know the specifics. That had never bothered him, until now. Over an 18 month span, Reshef is able to find out what happened to most of his family members, find part of his aunt’s journal that documents her time hiding from the Nazis in a bunker, and visit his parents’ hometown in the Ukraine.
Parts of this book are truly mystical. For instance, a few months into his search, his father comes to him in a dream and at the end, rants about money that no one knows about. Unable to sleep after this dream, Reshef needs less than 30 minutes on Google to find that there is, indeed, unclaimed money that was his father’s. I found it fascinating how the search took a life of its own. As Reshef needed information, it just seemed to appear.
This book is at times difficult to read because of the many tragic ways his relatives suffered and died. Even those lucky ones who survive are filled with overwhelming guilt.
Downsides of the Book
While I loved the content of the book and learning about Reshef’s journey, there were two parts of the book that I would have liked to have seen changed.
First, the book felt unorganized and scattered to me. In the beginning, chapters didn’t seem to be connected or flow smoothly. While some stories move back and forth between events building tension, this book simply recounted what Reshef was discovering. At the end of the book, Reshef acknowledges this and says that the book was written in diary form as he discovered information. That means that something he thinks is true at the beginning of the book may be changed at the end of the book as he finds new information.
Secondly, Reshef mentions many family members and neighbors, many of whom have the same names. Keep track of all of the different people was difficult. To help with this, I would have liked to have had a glossary of people and a family tree. When I finished the ebook, I discovered that Reshef had included this, but it was at the very end of the book. I wish it had been in the front for easy reference.
This is a unique book, and I found it a very interesting read.