Two days ago marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a murder which set in motion the beginning of World War I. A meaningful way to observe this anniversary would be to sit down with the new novel out by Ignatius Press The Leaves are Falling by Lucy Beckett. This book is quite an education in the history, ideology, religion, and geography of the two world wars.
The story is told from the perspective of Josef Halpern, an aging Jewish man eager to tell his tale of survival during World War II. The action begins with fifteen-year-old Josef, Joe, having successfully escaped to England from his native city of Vilna, the country to which it belongs forever changing throughout the course of the war. We watch Joe with great admiration as he pushes ahead with his new life in England, both grateful for the blessings that continue to come his way and heartbroken over the loss of loved ones whom the war has snatched from him.
Through conversations with Joe and his companions, soldiers and fugitives he’s encountered along the way, the remembered late-night conversations of his father and friends, and the actions and attitudes of the rulers and nations, the story delivers an in-depth look at the conflicting forces of capitalism and socialism, communism and religion, faith and despair. The question of the meaning of the human soul and its purpose in history haunts the narrative, at times painfully out of reach for those on the page who are seeking it.
Detailed and well-researched, the story brings war in its brutality as well as the courage it’s often met by to life. Even more beautifully it skillfully reveals the effect that our beliefs have on ourselves and others, the grave weight that ideas hold, and the horrors that arise when the truths written in the human heart are denied.