Phil Lewis | Bookshop Buzz: A mother's secret past holds disturbing answers

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New York, 1989. Ava Fischer has just received news that her estranged mother, Ilse, has died. Their relationship has always been fraught with unanswered questions. But, for Ilse, it was never quite the right time to give Ava the answers she craved: Who am I? Who was my father? And why did you abandon me for a year at the end of the Second World War?

Ava and Ilse have not spoken since Ilse visited New York 12 years previously. The visit was a disaster, prompting Ava to cut all ties to her mother. Ava even went as far as informing her daughter, Sophie, that Ilse had died.

Now Ava sits in her New York apartment going through her mother's last effects: a package of letters Ilse has written over the years but never sent. The letters are addressed to Ilse's childhood friend, Renate, and Renate's brother, Franz. Who are these people? And where are they now?

Reading through the letters, Ava finds disturbing answers to some of her questions.

"Wunderland" documents the incremental rise to power of the Nazis in 1930s Germany. The story is told from the perspective of three women: the childhood friends, Ilse and Renata, and Ilse's daughter, Ava. It is a powerful read. It reminds us of the sense of helplessness brought on by name calling, of marches and chanting, and the day-to-day hurt caused by pettiness and spite. Epstein's handling of the events of Crystal Night, and the nasty impact on the daily lives of individuals in the immediate aftermath, is superb. "Wunderland" is a timely reminder of the excesses that can result from unchallenged hate.

Jennifer Cody Epstein's debut novel, "The Painter from Shanghai," was an international best seller. Her second novel, "The Gods of Heavenly Punishment," won the 2013 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Award. Epstein lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Phil Lewis is co-owner of The Bennington Bookshop. "Wunderland" is available at The Bennington Bookshop, or can be purchased online here: https://www.benningtonbookshop.com/book/9780525576907

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