Béla’s Letters by Jeff Ingber is a brilliant combination of biographical notes and historical events, a man’s look at the history of a family in troubled times through a story that spans eight decades, covering the entire lifetime of Béla Ingber. Born in Munkács before the outbreak of WWI, Béla Ingber becomes one of the central characters in this family saga, a story that chronicles the experience of war and the Holocaust with its aftermath. With war raging around them, each member of the Ingber family had to give a personal response to the tragedy, and the way each of them reacted to the situation created conflict within the family and tore them apart.
Béla’s Letters is a masterful illustration of the horrors of war and how it could destroy a family, but beneath the grueling tale of pain, there is hope and the relentless struggle to remain together. The epistolary style is used to draw the reader’s attention into the intimate thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the members of the Ingber family, a style that offers readers a powerful glimpse into the despair and hope of this family. Can they be reunited again? Can the Holocaust ever come to an end?
What did it feel like to grow up like a Jew during the rise of Hitler?
This seems to be a question that this novel answers eloquently. In presenting the life of his gifted and polyglot father, the author explores the depth of the psychology of a people threatened with imminent extinction, explores the conflict of making choices, and demonstrates the will to survive through the effort to stay connected. The prose is beautiful, and, in spite of the darkness that permeates the book, there are numerous instances of humor. It takes a lot of skill to write a historical novel without coming across as overly explanatory. The author gives life to the writing by creating engaging and intelligent dialogue and by filling in the blanks where necessary. Those who have read A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl will find a complementary read in Béla’s Letters, a not-so-easy-to-put-down story.