How can poetry be written and love enjoyed in the midst of oppression and death? Readers will confront this mystery of the human experience in The Grayling by Cheryl Freier, a novel about family survival set in a terrible moment of history: the Holocaust, which took the lives of 6 million Jews.
Joseph Freier’s family outwits death by hiding in the Czechoslovakian woods, eluding the Nazis by living in a cave and eating wild onions, mushrooms and the Grayling fish, which becomes a symbol of nourishment and survival. Encircled by brutality, the family learns that life and love go on. Sam, one of the sons, finds “the lady of his life” also hiding in the woods. When tragedy strikes, his brother Martin emerges as the family’s strength, promising someday to write a book about these experiences.
Instead, Martin’s wife, Cheryl, writes that book as historical fiction. The Grayling opens with the poetry of Martin Freier, known in the Boston area “for his insightful columns and his radio broadcasts,” according to the prologue. “Like a tiny beam of light / hope springs through a crack,” begins one poem, a fitting theme for Freier’s tale of good triumphing over loss.
Freier writes with earnest competence, although a sharp-eyed editor should have walked her through those fictional woods. An extended scene of love discovered, lost and lamented appears twice, 35 pages apart. Freier also makes a disconcerting switch to first person narrative after 130 pages of third person. But her message is clear: Martin, the voice of hope, tells his heartbroken kin, “You must remember that you are a Jew and that there is a purpose for you on this earth.”
Despite its flaws, The Grayling should appeal to readers of Jewish history, Jewish family life and stories of individual triumph over war and oppression.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.