Spotlight: Restitution by Janet Lee Berg
Today, I'm delighted to introduce you to another interesting novel, Restitution by Janet Lee Berg, as part of a blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Based partly on family memoirs, Restitution deals with the guilt arising from the harsh choices Jewish families had to face during World War II, in order to keep their families safe.
Have a look at the intriguing excerpt!
Sequel to "Rembrandt's Shadow"
Janet Lee Berg
“Restitution” is the riveting, multigenerational story of Sylvie Rosenberg, a Holocaust survivor traumatized by the memory of her art dealer father forced to trade paintings with the Nazis in an attempt to save their large extended family. Sylvie’s adult life in 1970s New York is plagued by survivors’ guilt and bitterness.
But when her self-destructive ways threaten to upend the life of her Vietnam-vet son, Sylvie finally needs to face her demons. She returns to Holland to confront her past and fight the Dutch judicial system for the return of the masterpieces, but the battle proves far more difficult than Sylvie imagined...
Weaving in tragic true events from her own family history, Berg offers a sensitive story of history, romance, and humor along with detail from the extensive research of Lynn H. Nicholas, the world’s leading expert on art pilfered during WWII. Over 80 years later, the real family still awaits justice and the return of artwork that continues to hang on museum walls, without noting their tragic history…
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/restitution-janet-lee-berg/1137466374
You can also pick up a copy at your favourite independent bookstore
|Vogue, the woman who inspired the character of Sylvie Rosenberg.|
Sylvie flashed back, remembering Ruthie climbing up onto her bed when she was a toddler and the two of them reading bedtime stories together. She brushed a strand of wild blonde hair from
“You haven’t changed that much over the years. You still have that peachy complexion.”
Ruthie blushed and softly squeezed Sylvie’s hand. “It’s been a long time, Sylvie. We’re mature women now.”
“The last time I saw you—”
“I know. I know,” Ruthie cried. “We left on the plane to the United Kingdom, after staying at the Gibraltar camp . . . You stayed behind, Sylvie. Why?”
“Agh, it was a lifetime ago. Who knows why we do what we do when we’re young. You were only a little girl.”
“You were a teenager,” Ruthie returned.
“So?” Sylvie shrugged. “Look at us now.”
“Now what?” Ruthie shrugged.
“Want to talk about it?” Sylvie asked.
“You know . . . about being forced from our home, about the interminable train ride. About the past—our past.”
“Gretta made it obvious last night that she doesn’t want to talk about it.”
“You’re not Gretta. You should feel free to talk about anything you want to talk about.”
“Sometimes, it’s not worth talking about,” Ruthie said. “My husband, James, tells me the same thing you’re telling me, Sylvie. But I found out that it was either let Gretta have her way, or else.”
“Or else what?” Sylvie scowled.
“Or else she’d keep her children away from my children. It’s important to me that they don’t ever feel lonely, that they have cousins in their life. I want them to grow up with cheerful family
Sylvie sniffled. “Unlike us, you mean.”
“Yes, unlike us.” Ruthie said.
“I know my relationship with Gretta is not as profound as it could be. But there’s less tension this way. We take turns; they come to our flat, and then we go to theirs on the next occasion. Holidays are less lonely.”
“Wilhelm’s included?” Sylvie asked.
“Without children of his own, he’s a very special uncle. There’s not that many of us left, aside from you and Michael, and now Angela. Once in a while Aunt Chelley comes by even though she’s now old and sickly.” Ruthie wiped a tear from her cheek.
“It’s not easy for me either. So many times I start telling Michael about those years, but I don’t get very far. Wouldn’t it be wise if you and I could talk, now? Right now.”
“About what, about the horror and the fear we faced as Jews?”
Sylvie said, “Maybe Gretta’s right. Maybe we should forget. But how do you forget? How do you forget them ripping Oma out of our lives like that? You were only little; still you must remember how she held you on her lap for hours, singing nursery rhymes. How do you forget what happened to our relatives? To our friends? How do you forget how they forced us—”
“Stop! Please, Sylvie. Stop.” Ruthie put her hands over her ears.
“Why should I stop? For Gretta?”
“I told you why. Maybe you didn’t hear me.”
At first Sylvie thought Ruthie was making fun of her hearing, like all the kids used to do when she was young. But not Ruthie; she didn’t have a mean streak.
“For God’s sake, Ruthie. The children are adults now, why hide—?”
“Maybe we should let the past be the past. I’m not so sure they want to know more than the facts. Why should our guilt be carried over to the next generation? We survived. It’s a simple fact.”
“Do you know, I’ve been searching for something ever since. I think I needed to go home again. It was the last place I left my heart.”
“Oh, Sylvie.” Ruthie dabbed her eyes with a napkin.
Sylvie shivered. Again, she envisioned them lined up at the train depot, standing on the platform, cold and frightened. “At least we should know everything . . . We should never forget.”
“What do you mean?” Ruthie asked.
Sylvie stood and then paced the floor as she spoke.
“There’s things you don’t know. I remember the first time Michael asked me questions about the Holocaust. He was thirteen. He was supposed to be a man at that age. And because his father wasn’t around, he was my little man. I told him bits and pieces—you know, about our upbringing and about our escape. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him my personal story, you know, about what happened at the camp.”
“You mean about the baby?” Ruthie whispered.
Sylvie turned, still disgraced.
Sylvie had looked for the guard every day, wanting his approval, his affection. She had missed her father so much. It was Gretta who took the baby from her arms that day—the ultimate punishment for all the attention Sylvie constantly craved. This was all part of her resentment toward her older sister, for what she had done.
“It took me years to tell Michael about the baby’s existence. Michael calls him the brother he may never meet. To think he’s a grown man now, too, yet I still think of him with his baby face.”
Sylvie thought about the irony of new life, how precious, how it could turn tragic so quickly. She reflected on her five-day-old baby sister, Rose, who suffocated in her mother’s arms the day they hid in the root cellar—another one of those things they didn’t talk about. Like their mother’s pregnancy, which they called “her condition.”
“Our family kept many secrets,” Ruthie said.
“And lies, too.” Sylvie huffed. Was it Papa’s child? Was Rose a Nazi baby? ...
About the Author:
Janet Lee Berg
Janet Lee Berg is a native New Yorker with a residence in Charleston, SC. She is also author of several other works of fiction and children’s books and has had her work featured in the local, regional, and national press.
A journalist in the Hamptons, Janet Lee Berg has interviewed numerous celebrities and pursued an MFA in Creative Writing, under the direction of published professors including Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes.
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