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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Vanesa Neuman grew up in Tel Aviv, the only child of Jewish parents who were survivors of the Holocaust. She lived with her parents, her grandfather, and her Uncle Tomas. She loved them all, but she never really knew them. They were like closed books, unable and unwilling to share their stories because the stories were too horrific. Yet they had survived. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, his lawyer presents Vanesa with a bound journal. She’s seen this book before, but she was never allowed to look inside. Now she does and the stories she thought she understood quickly begin to unravel as her investigative powers take over, leading her to follow the trail of a sign that somehow leaves its mark on various historic places in Prague. What she discovers after unravelling the mysteries, and facing the death of some of her friends in the process, is a nightmare that is so inhuman in its horrific presentation that it sickens her to recognize it as part of her heritage.
In her father’s journal are eighteen stories, one story per month dated from February 1943 to October 1944. Vanesa knows its significance, as eighteen is the numerical value of the letters making up the Hebrew word ‘chai’ which means ‘life’. The horrors of her heritage may not have been her horrors, but without them, she would not have been born, she would not have had a life.
Steven Greenberg’s chilling novel, Galerie, opens the minds of readers to a time when there was no clear right and wrong, when there was only life and death, and the defining line depended on what the individual person was willing to do to assure the preservation of his or her life and that of their loved ones. As Vanesa’s Uncle Tomas tells her as a child, “Many things in your life will leave you, but we never really lose anything as long as we remember. Your memories, the good and the bad, will never abandon you.” And whilst some people might be willing to do anything, to sacrifice anything just to live, there are others who could not in good conscience give up their souls in order to live a mere shell of a life, one marred with disturbing memories. A powerful story about a troubling time in history with poignant lessons about choices and consequences.