DNA Test Unlocks a Family Mystery
Sephardic Jew Mathilda Nissim watches in horror as the Germans invade her beloved city of Salonika, Greece. What angers her most is the lack of resistance her people put up to their captors. In secret and at great risk to her life, she continues to publish her newspaper, calling her people to action. She doesn’t trust God to help them. When she and her husband find out they are expecting a child, Mathilda may have to resort to desperate measures to ensure her daughter’s survival.
Three generations later, college student Riley Payson and her cousin take a popular DNA test only to discover they don’t share any common ancestors. In fact, the test shows Riley is a Sephardic Jew from Greece. This revelation shakes Riley’s tenuous faith and sends her on a journey to discover what happened to her great-grandmother and how all this relates to her faith and her life today.
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About the Author
Liz Tolsma is the author of several WWII novels, romantic suspense novels, prairie romance novellas, and an Amish romance. She is a popular speaker and an editor and resides next to a Wisconsin farm field with her husband and their youngest daughter. Her son is a US Marine, and her oldest daughter is a college student. Liz enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping. Please visit her website at www.liztolsma.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter (@LizTolsma), Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. She is also the host of the Christian Historical Fiction Talk podcast.
More from Liz
Take a Trip to Greece with Me
I was privileged to travel to Greece last year to research my upcoming WWII novel, What I Would Tell You. God orchestrated it so beautifully. Because of Covid, we weren’t sure my daughter would be able to travel there for the summer internship she had applied for. Eight weeks before her scheduled departure, Greece reopened to foreign visitors. Around that same time, I sold What I Would Tell You, which is set in Thessaloniki, Greece, to Barbour Publishing. I had to go and visit!
Greece is a beautiful country. The pictures you see don’t do it justice. And to someone like me, the history is one of the best parts. My daughter and I explored the old city wall, built in the 1400s, many churches that predated the Ottoman Empire, and many excavated Roman ruins that have been dug up in the city’s process of putting in a subway system.
Because this is a WWII book, we also spent a great deal of time learning about the history of the Jews in the city. The Kapani Market, just down the street from our apartment, was a vibrant mix of colorful fruits, fragrant spices, and a cacophony of languages. I could well imagine what this old Jewish market was like prior to the war with people hawking olives, fish, and oregano.
We wasted no time in visiting the Jewish museum. I was shocked by the heavy security presence with armed guards outside of the building. Once inside, we had to show our IDs and were required to turn in our phones. Antisemitism is alive and well in Greece. But what a place. There were displays after displays tracing the history of the Jewish people in Thessaloniki from 1492 until WWII. The most breathtaking was the room with stone-covered walls, the names of all 48,000 Salonikan Jews killed in the Holocaust carved into the marble. There’s an entire scene in the book that deals with this room.
What saddened me most was what we saw when we visited the trainyard where the Jews were herded into cattle cars and shipped to Auschwitz. Before we got to where the station once stood, there was a wall on which someone had pained a mural covered with black-and-white figures in their striped uniforms, their eyes and mouths wide in horror. As if that weren’t difficult enough to view, what sickened me was the blue swastikas someone had painted over them.
We also trekked to the other side of the city to visit what had once been the Jewish cemetery, now the grounds of Aristotle University. All that remains to testify that half a million people were once buried here is a small, ill-kept memorial. There were two dead Christmas wreaths placed there. We visited in August.
In addition to a moving and thought-provoking story, I hope to also introduce you to the amazing city of Thessaloniki and give you a peek into the people and the culture of this amazing place. If you ever find yourself in Greece, plan some time in Thessaloniki. Many Americans miss this gem, but it’s packed with charm and history.
My emotions are a disaster right now after finishing this amazing book. I love that this is a dual timeline and how the author brings the past and present together in a brilliant way. It is evident that the author did extensive research about a war that had no mercy to those the Germans didn’t like. Their hatred for Jewish people was overwhelming to me. The scene where an innocent older man is beat to death then stomped on brought fresh tears to my eyes.
The author takes us to the present where we travel alongside Tessa as she discovers who her ancestors were. A simple DNA test that tells her about her heritage surprises her so much that she is determined to find answers. I found Tessa to be brave traveling by herself so far away without knowing anyone in Greece. I was just as intrigued as she was to discover who her relatives were and how they would tie into Mathilda’s life. Her journey will take her on a road to discover secrets that were meant to stay hidden. As she learns more about what people had to endure she understands that the memories are difficult to hear.
Mathilda is my favorite character from the story. The author seems to spend a bit more time on her character and she came to life for me. The times were getting very hard as she witnesses her husband being taken away by German soldiers. She doesn’t accept what has happened and hopes to get the other women to come together to find a way to get their men back home. I did fear for her safety as she is also caring a child. She wasn’t able to share the good news with her husband before he was forced to leave with the other men. Promises from the Germans that the men would return unharmed was hard to believe so Mathilda comes up with an idea to get them home.
There is so many details about the story that I want to share but I don’t want to ruin anything for readers. I was shocked at some of the outcome for people but I also witnessed faith, hope and trust for a better life. Sacrifices were made that were done with unconditional love just like God sacrificed His only son for our sins. I was thrilled to see how the author had faith elements in the story and how it helped to give strength to those facing difficult times. I cried at the end and didn’t want to leave Tess and Mathilda. They are an inspiration to me and their story is forever imprinted on my heart.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
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To celebrate her tour, Liz is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon e-gift card and copy of the book!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.