This book is a heart-wrenching portrayal of what happens when memories of the Holocaust overwhelm subsequent generations.
Milia Gottstein-Lasker has taken over for her grandfather, who started a foundation devoted to bringing Lithuanian Nazi war criminals to justice. Her goal is to force Lithuania to acknowledge its attacks against Jews during World War II, even as its newly independent government rebrands brutal butchers as patriotic freedom fighters.
This sacred duty is not only Milia’s vocation — it’s her obsession. She’s unable to view the world through any other prism.
When invited to go on an adventure, she thinks, “Children and grandchildren of survivors didn’t like surprises. They liked to know where they were going, and with whom, and when they would be coming back.” It never crosses her mind that this particular character trait might be universal.
Milia is aware that she has let her mania take over her life. She knows that she “loved and gave all her attention to … her work; even her children had to share her. Hitler’s victims were her real family.… Her work was her lover.” Yet she is helpless to do anything about it. When her husband has an affair, her daughter explains, “He says he wasn’t running away from you, just the Holocaust. That’s hard to live with.” To this, Milia counters, “Unfortunately, I have to live with it. So it’s a package deal.”
Even the possibility of new love is tainted. Milia is attracted to the Lithuanian college professor who invites her to give a presentation on her research. But she can’t let go of her suspicion that he is toying with her as “a way of getting back at her, at Jews, for making things difficult for him and his beloved country.”
Milia realizes the ridiculousness of her thought: “Of course, one part of her — the rational part, the educated, liberal part — couldn’t possibly blame a person who was not yet born for crimes committed by his ancestors.” But she insists on clinging to it.
Reading The Enemy Beside Me is a brutal, frustrating experience akin to watching a horror movie, in which otherwise intelligent people put their lives in jeopardy by making misguided decisions. Here, it’s Milia’s sanity that’s in jeopardy. We watch a woman self-destruct in real time, desperate to yell a warning — and nothing that anyone can say or do is capable of stopping her.
Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap opera tie-ins, figure skating mysteries, and romance novels. Her latest historical fiction, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region chronicles a little known aspect of Soviet and Jewish history. Alina was born in Odessa, USSR and immigrated to the United States with her family in 1977. Visit her website at: www.AlinaAdams.com.