Adam is a twentieth century political historian working at Columbia University, and he is also the son of a prominent Jewish civil rights lawyer. However, Adam's career has come to a standstill and he is doubting himself and his relationship. William McCray, also a civil rights activist and a long-term friend of Adam's late father Jake, suggests a possible topic that Adam might look into in order to revive his academic research.
However, the stories about Lamont and Adam also develop to involve the stories of their families, their friends, of acquaintances, whose lives have all impacted on each other in some way, whose stories are also told, and which all come together to build a picture of so many lives, and make one amazing book.
The reader is taken on an extraordinary journey through the lives of the characters, from New York to Chicago in the present day, back in time to pre-WWII Warsaw, and to Auschwitz. The stories are absorbing, and the way the characters from the present and past become linked through time is wonderful. I felt the excitement and anticipation as Adam realises how important the material he has unearthed from the past could be; a 'once in a career' find. The novel is beautifully written throughout, but one moving passage particularly stood out to me, when Adam is looking through the material he has found, relating to survivors at a camp for displaced persons after WWII has ended, a place...
'...where a cacophony of sounds approximating a myriad languages jostled fiercely with each other from the mouths of disparate ages and origins who shared only that, en masse, they were more broken from their first-hand experience of what humans are able to visit on one another, more broken from their unasked-for and unusally refined understanding of life's jagged extremes than perhaps any other collection of people on earth. Corralled again inside a camp, this one overseen by their liberators, they waited for a future almost as unimaginable to them as their recent past was to everybody else. Exhale too fast and you'd blow them over and with them their memories would spill out onto the very European ground their families now fertilised.'
It is a rich, intelligent, important book. I would wholeheartedly recommend it.