We Were Strangers Once – Betsy Carter
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Egon Schneider’s German Jewish parents were renown naturalists. His father studied birds and published his findings, accompanied by exquisite drawings by his wife. They encourage curiosity and passion in Egon, and he ultimately decides that he’d rather study people. He goes on to school to become an ophthalmologist, and is a successfully practicing doctor when the Nuremberg Laws are put in place. As the Gestapo begin enforcing the anti-Semitic policies, Egon and his friends begin to encourage one another to escape to America, and by the fortune of good timing, they make it to New York before the horrors of the Holocaust strike their heaviest blows. Now, free in America, Egon and his band of immigrant friends must start over again. His medicine license is no-good, his best friend is a best-selling author with books in the German language, and his high-society peers are reduced to poverty. As they adapt to jobs they’re overqualified for in society that resents them, they manage to find love and kinship within their ranks, and struggle to find bravery and optimism in trying times. After a Egon is discovered for practicing veterinary medicine, he is contacted by the government with the threat of deportation. In his most desperate hour, his friends rally together to try and save Egon’s future of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Betsy Carter’s writing is beautiful. It is smart and sophisticated, and her characters pull on your heartstrings as they face uncertain futures. The novel opens with a titular quote spoken by Barack Obama.
“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”
Carter’s story offers us a glimpse into the heartbreak, friendship, and fierce spirit of this country, and the immigrants who flock to it.
The novel is not only paints a portrait of an immigrant life, but it tells a wonderful literary story. As relevant as her novel is as a life of history, it is just as strong as a piece of fiction. The journey of Egon and his friends is engaging; it is tense when it needs to be and rewarding when the characters win their battles.
As a reader, I felt the victory of the characters just as harshly as I felt their pitfalls. Betsy Carter has made an excellent tribute to our history as immigrants, just as she has made an excellent exhibition of pure, heartfelt storytelling.