Review of What I Would Tell You by Liz Tolsma

About the Book

Determined to resist the invading Nazis, a Greek Jewish woman’s greatest dream has become her worst nightmare, and now she faces an impossible choice whose consequences echo across the generations. 
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.

Book Review

I’ve read many books by Liz Tolsma, and I have always felt that her WWII novels were some of her best ones. She is excellent at weaving in her research with her characters and their stories, ensuring that everything is historically accurate as possible, while also making the plotlines interesting and her readers turning the pages.

There is so much to say about this book. First of all, I loved Mathilda’s story. It took me a while to get into, but once I did, I did not want to stop reading it. While it is fictional, she represents what many women in Greece had to endure during that time. In general, I did not know what it was like for Greece during World War II. I had no idea what the people had to go through. Mathilda remained strong, though, through everything. She fought so hard for what was right, for her and her people’s freedom, and for her own family.

I wish I could say I enjoyed Tessa’s story as much as I enjoyed Mathilda’s. However, I never felt quite connected to Tessa. Instead of feeling like I was walking with her through her journey like I did Mathilda, I felt like I was just a bystander, only watching. This does not mean that I did not like her story–I did–it just seemed a bit rushed and somewhat incomplete to me. This did not take away from the rest of the book, however. Tessa is still important. For those of us who did not experience World War II, Tessa represents the insatiable curiosity of that time period that I believe it important for us to all have. This time period was a very dark one, one where many people suffered and died. Where freedoms were stripped and humans were not treated as humans. We need to remember this time as many who lived during it leave this world and take their memories with them.

This book will tug and pull at every emotion. You will cry with Mathilda during her trials but rejoice with her in her small victories. You will question and need to learn more with Tessa as she travels to Greece to find out more about her past. You will be left with a feeling of closure but also sadness for those who endured the Nazis’ regime. Overall, if you are a fan of split-time and World War II fiction, I would highly recommend this novel.

I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley and this is my honest opinion.