Cover image for My darling Elia
My darling Elia
Melnyk, Eugenie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
277 pages ; 22 cm
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At Montreal's huge Sunday flea market, an elderly man is stricken when he finds a crude locket in a box of jewelry at one of the booths. While recovering, he explains that it was a gift to his beloved wife, who disappeared from their Kiev home in 1941 during the German occupation. He has been searching for her ever since. It is now 1982.
After that first encounter, Elia comes back to the flea market every Sunday to tell his story. It's the tale of a young Jewish mane risking his life to find his beloved. Elia recounts hiss earch for his pregnant wife through war-torn Eastern Europe, barely escaping death at Babi Yar, encountering suspicious partisans, posing as a Nazi soldier, witnessing the destruction of the Polish ghetto, and ending up in a concentration camp. The war over, he follows his wife's trail to Montreal - where it fades away. But three women are moved by his story and join the hunt. At the story's unexpected end, readers will believe that love and hope can in some way survive horror and inspire good.

Author Notes

Eugenie Melynk , herself of Ukranian descent, was a Canadian writer who lived in Montreal. In a tragic denouement to this story, she succumed to a stroke as this book, a ten-year mission of her own, was being published.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In her only novel, Melnyk, who didn't live to see her book in print, personalizes the tragedy of the Holocaust through the tragic story of Elia Strohan, a Ukrainian Jew. Elia's tale begins in a Canadian flea market where he finds a locket he made for his wife, Anna. He has been searching for her for 50 years, ever since his return to Kiev after fighting the Germans. Liz and Cia, the flea market vendors, listen intently as he describes how he got caught in the massacre of Baba Yar. Surviving by using dead bodies as a shield, his only thought was to get back to his gentile wife, Anna. But believing that he had died, she left for Warsaw and ended up in a work camp. Elia was sent to Treblinka. His audience is so affected by his plight, they try to find the source for the locket, and even Liz's rebellious teenage daughter, Jenny, gets involved in the quest. Melnyk's simple rendition of the atrocities of the Holocaust magnifies the horror and the sorrow. --Patty Engelmann

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sadness pervades Melnyks moving novel, the tale of a husband and wife wrenched apart by WWII, but the kindness and compassion of strangers provides an inspirational counterpoint to the cruelties of fate. Browsing at a flea market, Elia Strohan, an elderly Holocaust survivor living in Montreal, finds a locket he made for his wife 50 years ago in Kiev, the Ukraine. The heartbreaking story he reveals to the vendors, who are themselves of Ukrainian descent, is a tale of his unflagging love and his half-century quest for his wife. In 1941, the Jewish polyglot professor of languages loses contact with his gentile wife, gifted violinist Anna Romanovich, and after barely escaping extermination, he discovers that she has fled with their newborn baby to her family in Poland. Anna, meanwhile, believes that Elia was killed at Babi Yar, the ravine on Kievs outskirts where the Nazis shot to death 30,000 Jews. Melnyk, a Canadian writer who died earlier this year, mined letters and diaries of Hitlers victims in the Jewish Museum in Montreal, and the narrative vividly describes three well-known Holocaust sites: Babi Yar; the Treblinka extermination camp, where Elia, imprisoned as a work-Jew, joins a doomed revolt, and again miraculously escapes to hide out in the forests; and the Warsaw ghetto, as seen through the eyes of one of Elias fellow slave-laborers. Anna, sent to a forced labor camp in Germany, survives only by prostituting herself. After the saga of Elias frustrating search, the surprise ending brings yet another twist to an eloquent story. As if to relieve the novel of its burden of grief, Melnyk counterposes the horrors of the Holocaust with the offbeat quotidian world of flea markets, personified in warmhearted vendor Liz Cantrell and her rebellious teenage daughter, who try to track down the source of the pendant. These lively scenes of contemporary life take on a suspenseful immediacy as the search narrows and the quest nears its end. While it suffers from some of the awkwardness of a fictional debut, Melnycks heartfelt tale raises questions of morality, responsibility and guilt, and dramatizes the enduring effects of the Holocaust in a classic love story. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Elia received his last message from his wife, Anna, in Kiev in 1941. Over 50 years later in Montreal, he still searches for her. Separated from Anna by World War II, Elia endured the fall of Russia, the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, and Treblinka. His incredible luck in escaping death testifies to his determination to find his wife again. In a Montreal flea market, he finds her locket and finally tells his story. As a result, the vendors undertake the search with him. Peripheral characters are briefly but effectively sketched. There is no sex and no offensive language, but scenes of the evil that Elia has lived through are explicit. Melnyk, who died recently, researched diaries and letters for the book at Montreal's Jewish Museum for seven years. This memorable novel is a tribute to the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit. Recommended.ÄAndrea Lee Shuey, Dallas P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

-Elia Strohan, a Ukrainian Jew, searches for his gentile wife, Anna, from whom he has been separated since 1941 and the massacre of Baba Yar. The story opens in 1982 in a flea market in Montreal, where Elia happens upon a locket he made for Anna more than 40 years earlier. Taken under the wings of Liz and Cia, the proprietors of the booth, he gradually relates his sad story, starting in Kiev in 1941. Anna, finding herself pregnant and thinking Elia dead, goes to her people in Poland. Elia survives Baba Yar and follows her to Warsaw, only to learn that she has been sent to a labor camp. He continues his search for her, eventually ending up in the Treblinka concentration camp where, because he is a "work Jew," he escapes extermination. All who hear Elia's story, including the market vendors and Liz's teenage daughter Jenny, become caught up in it and are determined to find Anna and reunite the two. This part of the book offers relief from Elia's powerful story of the atrocities he witnessed during the war. It all comes together in the end, leaving readers with an awareness of the human capacity for goodness as well as for inhumanity. YAs will identify with Jenny and her desire to help Elia. This gripping book will linger in the minds of all who read it.-Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     The flea market vendors all knew him by sight, though not by name. He was one of the dozen or so regulars who came to the market week after week and drifted from table to table, buying nothing, spending only their lonely Sunday hours. Unlike the others, who snatched at any opportunity to engage the vendors in conversation, he spoke to no one.     He appeared, usually, between ten and eleven each Sunday morning, and if he happened to catch our eye, mine or Cia's, his head dipped in a formal nod, then he retreated into a slow and methodical inspection of the merchandise we had for sale.     As we had with all the regulars, Cia and I had given him a name. Between ourselves, we called him " Stahray ," the Ukrainian word for old man.     Although neither of us is really fluent in the language, we are both of Ukrainian extraction and have retained enough of a vocabulary to make private comments on the looks and habits of people passing our tables. We fill in the gaps with French or English and, since our facility in all three languages is equal, we understand one another perfectly.     The name suited him.     He was aged in a way that had nothing to do with his years. We guessed him to be in his late sixties or early seventies which, at forty-eight and well on the way there myself, I don't consider all that old. But there was a fast fragility in his thin, stooped frame and in the careful way he walked, leaning on a knobby cane, that made him seem aged.     He was gray, all gray.     Gray tweed overcoat. Gray fur wedge hat. When the weather turned warm, gray trousers and gray cardigan. Gray hair receding from a high forehead, skin dusted with the film of poor health. Thick gray eyebrows thatched over pale eyes. A high-bridged nose thinning to transparent nostrils.     Two harsh grooves bracketed a pale mouth and a white scar curved from the corner of his lower lip to the deep cleft in his chin. They were the only memorable features of an unremarkable face.     Looking back, I realize he was the only regular none of us knew anything about. And to tell the truth, we had no real reason to care. If he had failed to appear, weeks could have passed before we'd have been aware of his absence.     And yet, before the summer ended, there wasn't a vendor or a regular in that particular flea market and in the city's flea market circuit whose imagination wasn't captured by him.     His search for Anna became an obsession with Cia and with me. And he had a profound effect on my daughter, Jenny. Excerpted from My Darling Elia by Eugenie Melnyk. Copyright © 1999 by Eugenie Melnyk. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.