14 Nov The Little Liar by Mitch Albom
A timely story of how humanity can overcome horror
Mitch Albom is my all-time favourite author, but I have to admit I baulked a little when I saw the subject matter of his latest novel, as I find stories about the Holocaust very difficult to read.
But “time passes, people forget” as the book says, and this story is a reminder that we all need to confront the “trauma of truth” if we are truly to say never again …
Especially in the present climate.
The story opens in Greece, in WWII, and explores the horrors Greek Jews had to endure at the hands of the Nazis, and even their Greek neighbours, through the eyes of the Crispi family, and their friend Fanni.
They lose their freedoms, their homes and ultimately their lives in the death camps – but some survive to tell the tale.
Nico is “the little liar” of the title, groomed by Nazi officer Udo Graf to reassure departing Jews at the station that new homes and jobs await them. He doesn’t realise that he has been lied to until his own family are forced on to the trains and he is left behind to fend for himself.
Meanwhile on the train, his older brother Sebastian contrives to save Fanni.
The story now follows each one as they find ways to survive the horrors of war and the death camps. Fanni and Sebastian suffer mental and physical trauma, but Nico’s story is perhaps the most pathetic of all, as he spends his whole life in atonement for his perceived betrayal of his people.
Exploration of faith
This is such a strong, powerful story, told in Mitch Albom’s unique and perceptive way. His books always have a religious theme, never asking us to believe or disbelieve in God, but exploring the way faith, or lack of it, can impact the lives of his characters.
That’s never more strong than here, where the Jewish people hold private prayers in the camp. How can they believe in a merciful God with all the suffering going on around them? Wisely, Mitch Albom does not try to address the question, but refers us to Truth, a personified central narrator in the story, who is very matter-of-fact, but knows where to lay the blame for all the suffering .
It’s a harrowing story of course, but Mitch Albom avoids sentimentality, giving us three characters in Niko, Sebastian and Fani who are empathetic, warm, patient, courageous, strong, and firm believers in truth and justice.
All have the will to survive – but how will they find the means to do so?
And what of Udo Graf – is he an allegory for the devil personified, a living symbol of man’s inhumanity to man, or just a sick, evil, twisted individual who believes in his own agenda. Again, Mitch Albom leaves us to make up our own mind.
Love is stronger than hate
Despite Graf, this story offers hope for the future, if only we heed the message that love is stronger than hate, and forgiveness is better than grudges, though justice should always be done.
Due to its subject matter, I hesitate to call the plot exciting, but it is fast-paced, gripping, and based on truth as it is, utterly and wholly convincing.
Sadly, as evidenced by the daily diet of news from Israel, Palestine, Croatia and Russia that we are fed in this autumn of 2023, nearly 70 years after the end of WWII, conflicts still rage around the world. Hate and intolerance of people different to ourselves, be it in race, colour or religion, still thrives.
But like Nico, Sebastian and Fanni, we can strive to make the world a better place, and the message that comes from The Little Liar is that we can do so by seeking out Truth.
The Little Liar by Mitch Albom is published by Sphere in hardback, ebook and audio format
About the Author
Author, screenwriter, philanthropist, journalist, and broadcaster, Mitch Albom has written 8 number-one NY Times bestsellers — including Tuesdays with Morrie. His books have sold more than 40M copies in 48 languages worldwide. He has also written award-winning TV films, stage plays, screenplays and a musical.
Following his bestselling memoir Finding Chika and Human Touch, an online serial that raised nearly one million dollars for pandemic relief, he returned to fiction with The Stranger in the Lifeboat. Other books by him include The Five People You Meet In Heaven and The First Phone Call From Heaven.
Albom now devotes most of his time to philanthropic work through SAY Detroit and Have Faith Haiti, among many other initiatives.
Many thanks to Katya Ellis of Littlebrown for the advance copy of this book.
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