The Chimney Tree
This first novel, a romantic saga making its way through the Holocaust, tells the story of a vibrant young woman, a rabbi’s daughter, whose first, doomed love is for the artistic younger brother of their family’s Polish Christian cook. In a failed attempt at damage control, her father arranges what turns out to be a horrifying marriage from which she learns some of the escape skills that later help her to survive the war. Helmreich evocatively paints a range of relationships: between a woman and a man, between parents and children and siblings; of life in the shtetl and the city, Jewish traditions of believers and non-believers, and the history of World War II on the Eastern Front. This book is deeply sad, psychologically realistic, and nevertheless appealing and inspiring in its portrait of an indomitable human impulse to live, to love, and to rebuild when it seems almost everything has been destroyed.