Torn between two lives

Being Lena Levi by Bobbie Ann Cole

Being Lena Levi

Is she Marlene or Lena? For a fourteen-year-old English schoolgirl to discover ‘Mum’ is not her real mother and by birth she is a German Jewess is a life-shattering revelation. And who is the real ‘Mutti‘ is behind her glamorous but rather worldly façade; she’s quite a contrast to the Christian circles Marlene had grown up in. But how could Mum deceive her so cruelly?

Marlene decides on the spur of the moment to experiment with being Lena. She travels with Mutti by train and ship – how exciting! – to Haifa in Israel, and is introduced to the young Jewish nation’s struggle to survive in a hostile and rather neglected environment. On the way, a brief conversation with a sympathetic old man exposes her burning dilemma.

‘Can I be a Jew and believe in Jesus?’

He looked a little surprised. ‘Not if you want other Jews to like you.’

‘Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus?’

‘He was an imposter.’

‘How do you know?’

‘How do you know he was the Messiah?’

‘Because he rose from the dead.’

The old man looked like he didn’t think that was very likely.

‘More than 500 people saw him,’ I said.

‘Let us agree to disagree. For now.’

The hot, dry climate – life in a kibbutz behind barbed wire for fear of hostile natives – strange food and customs – religious bigotry – longing for old friends and the familiar lifestyle of Canterbury. It’s a hard decision, but Lena chooses to revert to Marlene and returns home to Mum and … look who’s waiting for her in Southampton: Peter, her Christian neighbour she thought she had lost to her best friend Babs!

This book exposes the horrible historical realities of the Kristallnacht in 1938 in Germany, the Kindertransport that brought thousands of unaccompanied children to temporary foster homes in Britain and the bitter-sweet birth of the Jewish nation. But it also vividly portrays the internal struggles in the heart of a teenager who’s shocked to discover she’s not who she thought she was and has to question her own culture and religious beliefs. Well developed characters and dramatic incidents ensure make this captivating read to the end.

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