Title: What I Would Tell You
Author: Liz Tolsma
Major Themes: Jews, Greece, Discrimination, Racism, World War II, Jewish Holocaust
Synopsis: When a DNA test reveals that Tessa is descended from Sephardic Jews, she takes off to Greece to unravel the mystery of her past—and solves problems in her present, as well.
I discovered Liz Tolsma’s books a few years ago, and I have been instantly drawn into all the ones I have read. I came to the conclusion that I should not read her murder mysteries, because I end up losing sleep over them, but the historical fiction ones are just the kind I love. What I Would Tell You is the second split-time novel I have read by her, and it is great.
One part of this story is set in World War II Greece. Did you know that the Sephardic Jews who live in Greece are descended from the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492? I didn’t! Mathilda and her husband Asher, who lived in Salonika (Thessalonica), were Sephardic Jews. As the Nazis overran their beautiful city, Mathilda continued to publish a small Jewish newspaper, hoping to rouse her people to action so they would not be destroyed. However, it appeared that God had again deserted His people. When she discovered that she was finally with child, she couldn’t imagine why God would bring an innocent child into this chaos. She had to resort to desperate measures to try to save her daughter’s life.
The other part of the story is set in 2019. Tessa struggled with her relationship with her mother, and resented the way her stepfather and stepsister excluded her. Then, when she and her cousin took a DNA test and discovered that they had no common ancestors, she took off to Greece to try to find answers. How was it possible that she was a Sephardic Jew—and what did that mean, anyway? As she discovered what happened to the Jewish community in Salonika during the Nazi regime, she tried to work through all the new thoughts and information, and figure out if she was a Christian or a Jew, or could she be both? There was also the curator of the Jewish museum, who gave her a tour of the city and spent a lot of time with her—how would he fit into her life?
This is one of those very good split-time stories. I wasn’t very far through the book when I figured out how the two stories fitted together, but Liz Tolsma kept my attention all the way through as I kept turning pages to see how that ending came about. Parts of this story are very emotional. I can’t even imagine—even if I wanted to—how Mathilda could endure making the decision she had to make. Her friend Ioanna was extremely brave and selfless. If you enjoy historical fiction, be sure to read What I Would Tell You. It is a great story.
I received a review copy of this book from NetGalley, and these are my honest thoughts about it.
WARNING: Chapters 2 and 25 describe men being beaten to death by the Gestapo, and in chapter 30 a German describes in detail how they killed one of them. Chapter 23 describes a woman giving birth.