Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin
Rating : 3.5 / 5
A letter from France, discovered 70 years later, connects a WWII survivor and an art director with a conscience. While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realises it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.
Contemporary fiction with elements of suspense, Among the Branded explores loss and the human spirit, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs.
I requested this book through NetGalley as the blurb of the book appeared to be tailor-made to my reading preferences. I enjoy reading stories of all genres revolving around WWII and also love books that have some parts of the story narrated through letters. Although most WWII novels are set in Germany or details the activities in Germany, this was the first time I was exposed to the war atrocities in France, specifically Camp Gurs. This book also introduced me to Hidden Children, who were Jewish children hidden by many volunteers to protect them from persecution by the Nazi regime.
Images of Camp Gurs
Images of Hidden Children
Although touching upon Holocaust, the book revolves around Izzy, who is a Hidden Child and survivor of the Holocaust, and his present life. Stephanie, the protagonist, finds out about Izzy when she decides to dig up details mentioned in a WWII letter which she accidentally obtains. Through this letter Linda Smolkin clearly conveys the plight of the camp inmates. Struggling for food and deprived of basic living conditions, the letter is a cry for help of a mother for herself and her children. However, rather than focusing on the suffering of the victims, this book focuses on the importance of letting the past shape the future. It raises questions about sharing of the traumatic experiences to educate the present generation so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. The novel also showcases various positive relationships. Izzy, initially a stranger, bonds quickly with the Britain family and becomes a fatherly figure. The relationship of Stephanie and her mother is an unconventional relationship evolved out of an elongated grieving for her father. The friendship between Svetlana and Stephanie is also something to be envious about. The book also raises questions regarding conflicts in personal values and professional gains.
As the book is intended to be a light and pleasurable read, not much information about the concentration camps and the Jewish struggles are provided. Having read many WWII books, I found these lack of details unfulfilling. The author could have tackled a few heavy weight issues by providing more details about Izzy’s past and anti-Semitism. The ease with which the Holocaust victims, survivors and volunteers were tracked down in the story was also disconcerting. Personally for me, the book would have provided a powerful message if some more details and a solid background story were provided for Izzy and a few other characters.
Overall, a happy read touching upon the issue of Holocaust (if such reads can be pleasurable). Do not read this book with the expectation of being moved and reduced to tears as this is not that kind of a book. This is a breezy read meant for serious readers as well as people who enjoy light reads.