Come Back For Me by Sharon Hart-Green
By Eva Trieger
Survivor’s guilt is a verified phenomenon, and in this 2017 novel by Sharon Hart-Green, we are invited into the world of a young man tortured by the promise he made to his sister while attempting to escape the Nazis in 1944 Hungary. Artur Mandelkorn has spent the majority of his life trying to find his beloved little sister, Manya.The novel traces his movements and efforts towards this goal, and explores his emotional turmoil and pain as many of his quests result in dead ends.
This effort, a first novel by Hart-Green, is cleverly written from two vantage points. Chapters alternate between the story of Artur, experiencing the camps, the attendant horrors and eventually, liberation and life afterwards, with Suzy Kohn, a young woman, coming of age in late 1960s Canada. The link between the two is not made evident until later in the book, but that is of little import.
The tale is fairly graphic and this, most likely lends to its credibility. The discussion about the abuse at the hands of the Nazi guards,and through the descriptions of the olfactory offenses we get the picture. The author does a fabulous job of sharing the thoughts, fears, and ethos of a young man who has dedicated his life to finding and saving his little sister. She also does an admirable job of showing us a rebellious teenager on the brink of adulthood just prior to the Free Love generation. These facets of the novel work and enable the reader to experience the angst, pressure and dreams of both Artur and Suzy.
As much as this reader enjoyed the shifting between generations, I did struggle with the geography and pacing. Artur, in his search for Manya moved around quite a bit. At times I found this distracting and confusing. I do not doubt the impetus for his mobility, but I found myself having to return to previous pages to follow the story. Perhaps this was intentional, as I’m sure it felt to the Jews who were moved from camp to camp; the journey was equally precarious.
The full circle moment comes towards the end of the novel, when the generations both find a home and purpose in Eretz Yisroel. Artur has arrived in Israel and learned that his sister, whom he promised to save, is deceased. Yet a friend tells him, “Look at this country. It’s filled with people like you and me. The weak. The forlorn. The broken. We all live with loss. That’s why we’re such good builders. We have no choice but to start from the bare foundations” (Hart-Green 238). Despite this devastating loss, we are given hope that Artur’s older brother, Karl, survived. With too little explanation, Suzy has discovered an internal compass with the connection to her Jewish neshama while she attends the marriage of her aunt and newly-found uncle. Hart-Green has wrested some positivity out of the darkest days of our existence.
Come Back For Me by Sharon Hart-Green is published by New Jewish Press.