The Book of Lost Names Page 2

But his optimism was unrealistic. The Germans were perfectly free to bother France’s Jews anytime they wanted to, whether Eva and her parents acquiesced or not.

She looked skyward again, considering. She had planned to walk home in order to avoid the Métro and the new regulations—Jews were to ride only in the last, sweltering, airless car—but if the skies opened up, perhaps she’d be better off belowground.

“Ah, mon petit rat de bibliothèque.” A deep voice just behind Eva jarred her from her thoughts. She knew who it was before she turned, for there was only one person she knew who used “my little book rat” as a pet name for her.

“Bonjour, Joseph,” she said stiffly. She could feel the heat creeping up her cheeks, and she was embarrassed by her attraction to him. Joseph Pelletier was one of the only other students in the English Department who wore the yellow star—though unlike her, he was only half Jewish and nonobservant. He was tall, his shoulders broad, his hair thick and dark, his eyes a pale blue. He looked like a film star, a sentiment she knew was shared by many of the girls in the department—even the Catholic ones, whose parents would never allow their daughters to be courted by a Jew. Not that Joseph seemed the type to court anyone. He was more likely to seduce you in a shadowy corner of the library and leave you swooning.

“You look awfully pensive, little one,” he said, smiling at Eva as he kissed her on both cheeks in greeting. His mother had known hers since before she was born, and he had a way of making her feel as if she were still the small child she’d been when she first met him, though she was now twenty-three to his twenty-six.

“Just wondering if it will rain,” she replied, inching away from him before he could notice that the physical contact was making her blush.

“Eva.” The way he said her name made her heart skip. When she dared look at him again, his eyes were full of something disquieting. “I’ve come looking for you.”

“What for?” For a split second, she hoped he would say, To invite you to dinner. But that was perfectly ridiculous. Where would they go, in any case? Everything was closed to people who wore the star.

He leaned in. “To warn you. There are rumors that something is brewing. A massive roundup, before Friday.” His breath was warm on her ear. “They have as many as twenty thousand foreign-born Jews on the list.”

“Twenty thousand? That’s impossible.”

“Impossible? No. My friends have very reliable sources.”

“Your friends?” Their eyes locked. She’d heard about the underground, of course, people working to undermine the Nazis here in Paris. Is that what he meant? Who else would know such a thing? “How can you be so sure they’re right?”

“How can you be sure they’re not? As a precaution, I think it’s best for you and your parents to go into hiding for the next few days.”

“Into hiding?” Her father was a typewriter repairman, her mother a part-time seamstress. They barely had the means to pay for their apartment, let alone a place to lie low. “Perhaps we should check into the Ritz, then?”

“It’s not a joke, Eva.”

“I dislike the Germans as much as you do, Joseph, but twenty thousand people? No, I don’t believe it.”

“Just be careful, little one.” It was at that moment that the sky opened up. Joseph was swept away with the rain, vanishing into the sea of blooming umbrellas on the fountain-flanked sidewalk leading away from the library.

Eva swore under her breath. Raindrops pelted the pavement, making it slick as oil in the late afternoon half-light, and as she dashed from the steps toward the rue des écoles, she was drenched in an instant. She tried to pull her cardigan over her head to shield herself from the downpour, but doing so only meant that her star, as big as the palm of her hand, was now front and center.

“Dirty Jew,” a man muttered as he passed, his face hidden by his umbrella.

No, Eva wouldn’t be riding the Métro today. She took a deep breath and began to run toward the river, toward the soaring mass of Notre-Dame, toward home.

* * *

“How was the library today?” Eva’s father sat at the head of their small table while her mother, her hair wrapped in a faded handkerchief, her stout body swathed in a threadbare cotton dress, spooned watery potato soup into his bowl, and then into Eva’s. They had all gotten caught in the rain, and now their sweaters hung drying just inside the open window, the yellow stars facing them like three little soldiers all in a row, silently watching.

“It was fine.” Eva waited for her mother to sit before taking a small taste of the bland meal.

“I don’t know why you insist on continuing to go,” Eva’s mother said. She paused for a spoonful of soup and wrinkled her nose. “They’ll never allow you to get your degree.”

“Things will change, Mamusia. I know they will.”

“Your generation and its optimism.” Eva’s mother sighed.

“Eva is right, Faiga. The Germans can’t keep up these regulations forever. They make no sense.” Eva’s father smiled a smile they all knew was false.

“Thanks, Tatu?.” Eva and her parents still addressed each other with Polish terms of endearment, though Eva, born in Paris, had never set foot in her parents’ native country. “So how was your work today?”

Her father looked down at his soup. “Monsieur Goujon does not know how much longer he can continue paying me. We may have to…” His gaze flicked to Mamusia, then to Eva. “We may have to leave Paris. If I lose my job, there’s no other way for me to make a living here.”

Eva had known this moment was coming, but still it hit her like a punch to the gut. If they left Paris, she knew she would never return to the Sorbonne, would never complete the degree in English she had worked so hard for.

Her father’s employment had been in jeopardy for a long time, since the Germans started to systematically remove Jews from French society. His reputation as the best typewriter and mimeograph repairman in Paris had saved him for the time being, though he was no longer allowed to work inside any government offices. But Monsieur Goujon, his old supervisor, had taken pity on him and was paying him for off-the-books work, most of which he did at home. In fact, there were eleven typewriters in various stages of disassembly currently lined up in the parlor, indicating a long night of work ahead.

Eva took a long breath and dug deep for some hope. “Perhaps it would be for the best if we left, Tatu?.”

He blinked at her, and her mother went silent. “For the best, s?oneczko?” Her father had always called her that, Polish for “little sun,” and she wondered if he saw the bitter irony in it now, as she did. After all, what was the sun but a yellow star?

“You see, I ran into Joseph Pelletier today—”

“Oh, Joseph!” Her mother cut her off, placing her palms on her own cheeks like a smitten schoolgirl. “Such a handsome boy. Did he finally ask you for a date? I always hoped the two of you might end up together.”

“No, Mamusia, nothing like that.” Eva exchanged glances with her father. Fixing Eva up with a suitable young man seemed to occupy an absurd proportion of Mamusia’s thoughts, as if they weren’t in the middle of a war. “Actually, he sought me out to tell me something. He heard a rumor that as many as twenty thousand foreign-born Jews are to be rounded up sometime within the next few days.”

Eva’s mother frowned. “That’s ridiculous. What on earth would they do with twenty thousand of us?”

“That’s what I said.” Eva glanced at her father, who still hadn’t spoken. “Tatu??”

“It’s certainly a frightening thing to hear,” he said after a long pause, his words slow and measured. “Though Joseph seems the type to embellish.”

“Surely not. He’s such a nice young man,” Eva’s mother said instantly.

“Faiga, he has made Eva upset, and for what? So that he can puff out his chest and show her that he’s well connected? A decent fellow shouldn’t feel the need to do that.” Tatu? turned back to Eva. “S?oneczko, I don’t want to ignore what Joseph said. And I agree there is something brewing. But I’ve heard at least a dozen rumors this month, and this is the most outrageous. Twenty thousand? It’s not possible.”

“Still, Tatu?, what if he’s right?”

In response, he rose from the table and returned a few seconds later with a small printed tract. He handed it to Eva, who skimmed it quickly. Take all necessary measures to hide… Fight the police… Seek to flee. “What is this?” she whispered as she handed it to her mother.

“It was slipped under our door yesterday,” her father said.

“Why didn’t you tell us? It sounds like a warning, just like what Joseph said.”

He shook his head slowly. “This isn’t the first one, Eva. The Germans rule with fear as much as they do with their weapons. If we cower every time a false notice goes around, they will have won, won’t they? They will have taken our sense of security, our sense of well-being. I won’t allow that.”

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