Saturday, May 14, 2016


St. Martin’s Griffin
October 8th, 2013
Contemporary Thriller Fiction with historical elements
Reviewed by Dawn (
Obtained by Library
5 Hearts

Elliott Rosenweig is a wealthy philanthropist and civic leader in Chicago who attends a fundraiser when an old man comes in brandishing a gun, screaming that Elliott is a Nazi officer named Otto Piatek who is known as the ‘Butcher of Zamosc’.  Even though Elliott renounces he is that person, his accuser, Ben Solomon, retains lawyer Catherine Lockhart and starts the process of bringing this man to justice. As Ben tells his story to Catherine of Ben’s family raising German Otto in Poland to having Otto turn around and betray them when the Nazi’s came to power. The question remains is- did Ben accuse the right man?

ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS is a powerful story that had me engrossed from the very beginning to the very end. I read reviews of this book in magazines and heard people rave about it so I decided to take a chance outside the box so to speak and see if all the hype was warranted. I am pleased to say that oh hell yes this was worth it and so much more. I have to caution you that there are scenes of war, brutality and atrocities that we associate with Hitler’s Nazis and the Holocaust. It can be very overwhelming and quite emotional but I just could not put it down. The author does a marvelous job in capturing the main characters perfectly. From lawyer Catherine’s hesitation to take this case to Ben’s firm conviction that Elliott is definitely Otto, each player delivers a scorching emotional performance that just draws you in and completely captivates you. The twists and turns kept me glued to the pages and I was eager to see where the author was going to go with the story even as I flipped the pages with ready abandon, just to see what happens next. The writing itself was perfectly balanced between show and tell. The passages where the reader is taken back to the time of Germany’s occupation of Poland, the rise of Hitler and the Nazi’s and more are all perfectly written with the right amount of human emotion that just steals your heart. Those scenes left me reeling even as I read on, totally invested with the characters as their story is being told. The story flows smoothly, seamlessly and the pace is quick.

The one thing I want to mention is that the author does a great job in flipping between present day Chicago and Poland in 1936-44 with vivid and striking descriptions that made you feel like you were there at that time. That was one of the best things about this story in my opinion was how this author seamlessly wove the story together by going back and forth between time periods. It was perfectly balanced between present and past that just worked for this story perfectly. Not many authors can do that just right but author Ronald H. Balson did. You can also tell how much research this author did to get the scenes just right be it from a legal point of view to the time of WWII and the human element of that time frame.

ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS is a story of hope and despair, of love and redemption, of loyalty and treachery and above all of heroism and cowardice. Each of these is woven into the story and as you get to know the characters, we see how one person can make a difference even 60 years later. I love how the author created the characters that really stand out, with vulnerabilities and foilables that everyday people have. It certainly made the story more rich and in-depth. 

Overall, ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS is a story of the human heart and sprit that every reader should read. It’s a strong message of the atrocities of a time when just being a different religion/race was reason enough to cause you and your family harm. As the world evolves and grows, ONCE WE WERE BROTHERS shows us that the world back then wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows. It was hard, lives were destroyed, and families were eradicated all because of a madman’s desire to be a ruling race. With this story, the reader is treated to a story where we can see how the legal road to justice is a long, winding one and that sometimes it takes one person to stand up for what is right and just to get the justice we hunger for. I highly recommend this novel and warn you, you will get lost amid the pages of this story so fast that you will totally forget to eat, sleep or work. This book will haunt you even after you have finished it. Even now, I keep seeing passages from the book in my mind that just resonates with me. I am looking forward to seeing what else this author has in their back list to explore.

This is an objective review and not an endorsement.

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