The Ene­my Beside Me

  • Review
By – October 2, 2023

This book is a heart-wrench­ing por­tray­al of what hap­pens when mem­o­ries of the Holo­caust over­whelm sub­se­quent generations.

Mil­ia Gottstein-Lasker has tak­en over for her grand­fa­ther, who start­ed a foun­da­tion devot­ed to bring­ing Lithuan­ian Nazi war crim­i­nals to jus­tice. Her goal is to force Lithua­nia to acknowl­edge its attacks against Jews dur­ing World War II, even as its new­ly inde­pen­dent gov­ern­ment rebrands bru­tal butch­ers as patri­ot­ic free­dom fighters.

This sacred duty is not only Milia’s voca­tion — it’s her obses­sion. She’s unable to view the world through any oth­er prism. 

When invit­ed to go on an adven­ture, she thinks, Chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of sur­vivors didn’t like sur­pris­es. They liked to know where they were going, and with whom, and when they would be com­ing back.” It nev­er cross­es her mind that this par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter trait might be universal. 

Mil­ia is aware that she has let her mania take over her life. She knows that she loved and gave all her atten­tion to … her work; even her chil­dren had to share her. Hitler’s vic­tims were her real fam­i­ly.… Her work was her lover.” Yet she is help­less to do any­thing about it. When her hus­band has an affair, her daugh­ter explains, He says he wasn’t run­ning away from you, just the Holo­caust. That’s hard to live with.” To this, Mil­ia coun­ters, Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I have to live with it. So it’s a pack­age deal.”

Even the pos­si­bil­i­ty of new love is taint­ed. Mil­ia is attract­ed to the Lithuan­ian col­lege pro­fes­sor who invites her to give a pre­sen­ta­tion on her research. But she can’t let go of her sus­pi­cion that he is toy­ing with her as a way of get­ting back at her, at Jews, for mak­ing things dif­fi­cult for him and his beloved country.” 

Mil­ia real­izes the ridicu­lous­ness of her thought: Of course, one part of her — the ratio­nal part, the edu­cat­ed, lib­er­al part — couldn’t pos­si­bly blame a per­son who was not yet born for crimes com­mit­ted by his ances­tors.” But she insists on cling­ing to it.

Read­ing The Ene­my Beside Me is a bru­tal, frus­trat­ing expe­ri­ence akin to watch­ing a hor­ror movie, in which oth­er­wise intel­li­gent peo­ple put their lives in jeop­ardy by mak­ing mis­guid­ed deci­sions. Here, it’s Milia’s san­i­ty that’s in jeop­ardy. We watch a woman self-destruct in real time, des­per­ate to yell a warn­ing — and noth­ing that any­one can say or do is capa­ble of stop­ping her.

Ali­na Adams is the NYT best-sell­ing author of soap opera tie-ins, fig­ure skat­ing mys­ter­ies, and romance nov­els. Her lat­est his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, My Mother’s Secret: A Nov­el of the Jew­ish Autonomous Region chron­i­cles a lit­tle known aspect of Sovi­et and Jew­ish his­to­ry. Ali­na was born in Odessa, USSR and immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States with her fam­i­ly in 1977. Vis­it her web­site at: www​.Ali​naAdams​.com.

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