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Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 389 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, our August Book Club selection, is part legal thriller and part historical fiction, as Ben Solomon recognizes that one of Chicago’s elite was a former Nazi SS officer Otto Piatek, the butcher of Zamosc, and his one-time brother.  Solomon’s family always strove to help their neighbors whenever possible, and one day take in a German boy, Otto, as their parents face the struggles of lost jobs and opportunities.  On the cusp of Nazi expansion, Poland seems like it is protected from outside forces and immune to Nazi takeover, but suddenly, things change and the Solomons are faced with a variety of tough decisions.  In the present Ben Solomon has aged and is on a crusade to bring Piatek to justice no matter the cost.

“‘Maybe for some.  Not for me.  It is why we must remain diligent and relentlessly pursue men like Piatek.  Evil is contagious.  Much like a pathogen, it must be snuffed out at the source.'” (page 139)

Balson has a great story to tell, but it’s too bad that the modern-day character of Catherine Lockhart is too much of a pain, with her constant interruptions about billable hours and urging Ben to get to the point.  She’s constantly bombarding Ben with questions about property and the basis for his lawsuit and always denying her interest.  While her backstory about a horrible conniving husband gives credence to her lack of confidence as a lawyer and her concern about keeping her current job, her story is pale in comparison to Ben’s Holocaust story.  Moreover, there are times when Ben appears to be spouting off facts in an effort to educate the reader, coming off more as a lecture than a man who is telling his life story.  Despite these flaws, the story is engaging — even if everything that could have happened during the Holocaust happens to Ben and his family — and readers will be sucked into the past, just as Catherine is.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson is intriguing because of the Polish setting, and the story of Ben and his family is engaging, but the lawsuit portion is resolved very quickly and the relationship between Ben and Otto as children is only partially developed.  With that said, Balson knows his history and has created an engaging look into the past that will have readers examining the world today in a new light.  Are we beyond the evil the Nazi’s engaged in or is the potential still here among our own world leaders?

About the Author:

The author, Ronald H. Balson, is a Chicago trial attorney, an educator and writer. His practice has taken him to several international venues, including villages in Poland which have inspired the novel Once We Were Brothers.

What Book Club Thought:

Most of us were displeased with the attorney character and her sob story, which had not place in the book, especially in comparison to Ben Solomon’s holocaust story.  With that said, one member really enjoyed the legal maneuverings near the end of the book, though they were resolved very quickly.  While the novel was readable and went quickly, there seemed to be an abundance of bad things happening to Ben and his family, though like most of these stories there are many who die.  Otto also seemed to be “too” evil and there was little seen of his transformation, which could be because the story was told from Ben’s point of view for the most part.  One member suggested that the modern day characters be cut out or that they be only at the end when Ben makes it to modern day and begins his lawsuit, while another suggested the book be split between the “brothers'” points of view.  Overall, many thought this book could have presented the story in a better way.

20th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

 

 

49th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

 

 

 

15th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in Poland)

 

 

25th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.