Sunday, January 1, 2023

What I Would Tell You by Liz Tolsma Book Review

About the Book:

1941—The pounding of Nazi boots on the streets of Salonika, Greece, reverberates in Mathilda Nissim’s ears, shaking her large community of Sephardic Jews to its core and altering her life forever. If only her people would rise up and resist their captors. At great risk to herself and those around her, she uses the small newspaper she publishes to call them to action, all to no avail. Her husband encourages her to trust God to watch over them, but God has once again deserted His people. Amid the chaos, Mathilda discovers she’s expecting a longed-for child. Still, nothing stops the occupiers’ noose from tightening around their necks, and she may have to resort to desperate measures to ensure her daughter’s survival.

2019—College student Tessa Payton and her cousin take a popular DNA heritage test only to discover they don’t share any common ancestors. In fact, the test reveals Tessa is a Greek Sephardic Jew. This revelation threatens her tenuous faith. Always the overlooked child in her family, she empties her savings account and jets off on a journey to Greece to discover where she belongs and which God demands her allegiance. The enchanting curator at the Jewish museum guides her as she navigates life in Thessaloniki, helps with her genealogical research, and loans her a fascinating journal written by a Jewish woman during WWII. Tessa’s search, however, may open old wounds and uncover long-hidden secrets that could fracture her family forever and leave her with more questions than when she started.

My Review:

This is a touching novel that is engaging on two levels. The current story explores the meaning of newly discovered genetic heritage and the struggles of being in a blended family. The historical story reveals that genetic history and gives a different example of family love. It was interesting to see how Tolsma paralleled mother daughter love in each of the stories.

This novel revealed a new aspect of WW II and the persecution of the Jews. I did not know about those in Greece. Tolsma's note identifies all the historical events and people upon which she framed her novel. The historical story is tragic so have some tissues handy.

Tolsma explores relationship issues in the current story with Tessa growing in her understanding of and relationship with her stepfather. There is also an exploration of anti-Semitic feelings in the current story. That theme is another parallel between the current and historical stories. Another topic explored is the relationship of being Jewish and being a Christian.

I appreciate Tolsma's detail in the setting of Thessaloniki. She says she fell in love with the city when she visited and it shows in her placing the reader firmly in the setting.

This is another good novel shedding light on a tragic era during WW II.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Passionate might best describe Liz Tolsma. She loves writing, research, and editing. Her passion shone through in her first novel which was a double award finalist. On any given day, you might find her pulling weeds in her perennial garden, walking her hyperactive dog, or curled up with a good book. Nothing means more to her than her family. She’s married her high-school sweetheart twenty-eight years ago. Get her talking about international adoption, and you might never get her to stop. She and her husband adopted three children, including a son who is a U.S. Marine, and two daughters. You can find out more at

Barbour Books, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

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