What does a New York City lawyer in her late 30s have in common with a Jewish woman who fled Vienna during WWII? On the surface, not much. But Ellen Umansky’s beautiful debut novel, The Fortunate Ones, proves otherwise.
Told in alternating chapters, the book follows elderly Rose, (who, as a child during the war lost a precious painting) and modern day Lizzie (whose father ends up acquiring—and losing—the painting decades later). Both think about the work of art constantly and neither can quite put their finger on why it means so much to them.
Once the two meet at Lizzie’s father’s funeral (it’s a long story), they bond over their shared love for the piece and Rose helps Lizzie cope with newly uncovered but devastating family secrets.
The historical portions of the book are more compelling than those set in the present tense, but overall, the vivid characterizations make it hard to believe that this is Umansky’s first effort. We’re certainly excited to see what she dreams up next.