Tag Archives: Ronald H. Balson

“Karolina’s Twins: A Novel,” by Ronald H. Balson

  • St. Martin’s Press. 320 pp. Hardcover $25.99.

An emotionally rich Holocaust thriller about long-kept secrets.

Karolina’s Twins is the third book in a trilogy (hopefully, to be a series) by Ronald H. Balson. Part legal thriller and part Holocaust narrative, the story echoes the pattern of Balson’s first novel, the highly successful Once We Were Brothers. As with the earlier book, the author risks the possible tedium of putting readers through long stretches of extremely detailed conversations in which one voice dominates. This time, it is the voice of Polish-born Lena Scheinman Woodward, a Holocaust survivor who has a complex story to tell, a promise to keep, and a secret. In her late 80s, Lena is in fine physical and mental condition; she speaks with elegance and precision.

Karolina'sTwins_FC

The setting for her storytelling is primarily the law office of Catherine Lockhart, a lawyer whom Lena insists should represent her. But as much as Lena reveals to Catherine, the lawyer feels that her client is holding something back. Meanwhile, Lena’s son, Arthur, is prepared to have her declared incompetent: He fears she will squander family resources on an old obsession, and he strives to take control of the assets.

To Arthur, Lena appears obsessed and delusional. But Lena’s preoccupations stem from a promise to return to Poland and find her best friend Karolina’s twin daughters. The infant girls, traveling to a concentration camp along with Karolina and another woman, were cast out of a railroad car in order to save their lives.

The unfolding narrative, which requires many meetings, is in part shaped by Catherine’s questions. Often, Catherine’s husband, private investigator Liam Taggart, is in the room. It will be Liam’s task to verify the facts of Lena’s story — including the reliability of her memory.

So there is the story Lena tells, mostly focused on her experiences during the Holocaust, the story of the legal proceedings, and the story of the relationship between Catherine and Liam, appearing in the trilogy together, for the third time (including the second book, Saving Sophie).

The Holocaust narrative is fascinating, horrifying, and yet on the whole, uplifting. We are witness to terrible suffering via the full range of Nazi cruelty and the defiant, generous actions of a handful of individuals. It lives in the authentic details of place, especially the Scheinman family’s small town, which is occupied by Nazi forces. Balson’s historical research goes far beyond the story he was told by the woman whose life served as his main source. Moreover, he employs that research smoothly and stunningly.

Balson

Balson

Once the legal proceedings are underway, Balson is writing a courtroom drama. Arthur’s lawyer is truly nasty: a fine match for his client. The unfriendly, self-important judge threatens Catherine with contempt of court if she does not reveal information that would sacrifice attorney-client privilege. The competency hearing requires more than the display of Lena’s obvious mental and physical health. How can she prove that she is neither fabricating nor imagining seemingly far-fetched events?

To read the full review, please click here: Karolina’s Twins: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books

Mr. Balson will be speaking about this novel at the Collier County Jewish Book Festival on January 11 at Temple Shalom. Also on the program, which begins at 1:00pm, will be Alyson Richman, author of The Velvet Hours. Full JBF program soon available at jewishbookfestival.org.

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“Saving Sophie,” by Ronald H. Balson

  • St. Martin’s Griffin. 448 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

This fast-paced, globe-spanning thriller takes readers from Hawaii to Hebron.

This exciting, information-packed novel is almost bursting at the seams of its ambition. In it, author Ronald H. Balson orchestrates several intersecting storylines that cover a broad geographical, generational, and geopolitical span.

The two main narratives follow an $88 million embezzlement case in Chicago and a sophisticated terrorist plot masterminded out of Hebron. When the payoff from a colossal business deal engineered in part by accountant (and single father) Jack Sommers goes awry, the money not deposited in the authorized account, Jack is among those under suspicion.

So he takes on a false identity and hides out in Hawaii.

The complicated legal case triggered by the embezzlement requires the skills of key characters from Once We Were Brothers, Balson’s first novel. They are attorney Catherine Lockhart, once fired from the firm that now needs her, and private eye Liam Taggart. These two have a long-simmering romance that percolates throughout.

They are also tied to the terrorist plot headed by Jack’s Muslim father-in-law, Dr. Arif al-Zahani, from his home in Palestinian Hebron. The doctor is a leader of the Sons of Canaan, a sinister group preparing a devastating action designed to kill thousands.

Liam is recruited to work with a beautiful counterterrorism agent, Kayla Cummings, who is at first identified as attached to the U.S. Department of State. The mission is to rescue Jack’s daughter, Sophie — who has been kidnapped by her grandfather, al-Zahani — and to foil the looming attack. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click hereSaving Sophie | Washington Independent Review of Books

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A contemporary legal thriller set against Holocaust background of betrayal and denial

Once We Were Brothers, by Ronald H. Balson. St. Martins Griffin. 378 pages. Trade paperback $15.99.

This dazzling debut by a Chicago trial attorney takes chances and manages to survive them. Told largely in the words of an eighty-three year old Holocaust survivor who has led a quiet life in Chicago, it follows Ben Solomon’s pursuit of justice. Convinced that he has discovered his boyhood friend, a man who became a Nazi soldier, Ben confronts powerful tycoon and respected philanthropist Elliot Rosenzweig and insists on bringing him to justice for crimes in Poland during WWII.  oncewewerebrothers

At a posh event at the Civic Opera House, Ben approaches the man he believes to be Otto Piatek, who was raised in the Solomon home for many years. Rosenzweig bares his concentration camp tattoo and insists that Ben is confused and that he, Elliot, is actually a Holocaust survivor. Ben, who holds an empty Luger pistol to Elliot’s head, is arrested but soon released.

Ben convinces a reluctant lawyer to explore his case. She wants to know what hard evidence he has, but Ben insists that she must hear the long, winding story of his growing up in Poland, the relationship between the Solomon and Piatek families, the effects on their lives of the Nazi rise to power, Otto’s return to his mother and father, and his re-emergence as an SS officer. The lawyer, Catherine Lockhart, once a fast-track attorney but now rebuilding her damaged career, is a hard sell. Eventually, she succumbs to Ben’s story, his dedication to his mission, and his personality.

Although taking this case leads Catherine to lose her job, it also makes her come alive: she is doing something that she believes in and that can make a difference.

One of the many chances the author takes is to present so much in one voice within a third person narration. The dialogue would seem to overwhelm other story-telling devices, the action held inside of Ben’s narration. Mr. Balson’s skill allows him to get away with this decision. He finds the right breaks in the story – breaks that the reader needs (often formal chapter divisions) and breaks occasioned by Catherine’s need to get other things done that she has let slide.

More importantly, the strength of Ben’s story is so compelling that those of us vicariously listening as Ben speaks to Catherine can barely let ourselves put the book down.

Balson

Balson

Balson has fleshed out the Poland in which his imaginary personalities lived during the rise of Hitler and the near-demise of the Nazi regime’s scapegoat population. Within the carefully researched and magnificently rendered historical setting, he has built a group of credible and highly individualized characters whose destiny is intrinsically linked to time and place.

We admire the sympathetic, caring nature of Ben’s parents, the glow of Ben’s growing love for Hannah as both of them cross from childhood to adulthood, the sturdy moral nature of Hannah’s father, the generous and courageous risk-taking of many individuals who make the survival of Ben and others possible.

We struggle to understand the strange transition of Otto from a boy who calls the Solomons his true family to a Nazi instrument of cruel dehumanization and devastation.

The story of the two boys is a microcosm for the broader story of all those times and places when and where people of different persuasions and traditions lived in harmony . . . until something corrupted their shared world.

Balson’s book is divided into three sections: “The Confrontation,” “Ben Solomon’s Story,” and “The Lawsuit.” In the final section, Liam, Catherine’s long-time good friend, turns into a major player as the legal battleground becomes one in which he and Catherine are pitted against the enormous clout of the law firm representing Otto/Elliot. As Catherine’s primary investigator on this case, Liam risks losing the big-firm clients he has attracted. However, he too is compelled by Ben’s story. Liam’s love for Catherine, slowly acknowledged and returned, becomes an even greater driving force in his decision.

In the closing section Ronald H. Balson’s legal expertise is put to excellent use. The author develops a fully engaging, meticulous picture of how the case against the celebrity philanthropist is constructed. He gives almost as much detail to the schemes and threats of Rosenzweig’s minions.

Throughout the novel, the possibility of failure is kept dangling. Perhaps Ben is deluded and has identified the wrong man. If he is on target, perhaps his team will fail. How Balson balances these possibilities against the sympathetic reader’s hopes and the progress of the intricate case is a cause for admiration.

Also to be admired is Balson’s portrait of today’s Chicago. But this review must end!

This review appears in the June 2014 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).

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