“Eli’s Promise” by Ronald Balson— The Human Cost of War

Balson, Ronald. “Eli’s Promise”, St. Martin’s, 2020.

The Human Cost of War

Amos Lassen

Ronald Balson’s “Eli’s Promise” is an exploration of the human cost of war, the mixed blessings of survival, and the enduring strength of family bonds. It is historical fiction that spans three eras: Nazi-occupied Poland, the American Zone of post-war Germany, and Chicago at the height of the Vietnam War.

In 1939,  Eli Rosen is living with his wife Esther and their young son in Lublin, Poland. His family owns a construction company but because of  the Nazi occupation, Eli’s company is Aryanized, appropriated and transferred to Maximilian Poleski, a profiteer who sells favors to Lublin’s subjugated residents. Through an uneasy alliance, Poleski will keep the Rosen family safe if Eli will manage the business.

In 1946,  Eli and his son are in a displaced persons camp in Allied-occupied Germany hoping for a visa to America. Esther has been missing since the war. One man is sneaking around the camps selling illegal visas and he just might know what has happened to her.
In 1965, Eli rents a room in Albany Park, Chicago. He is on a mission. He patiently navigates unfamiliar streets and dangerous political backrooms with cunning as he searches for the truth. He is a husband on a quest for justice. He is also determined to fulfill a promise to bring justice to a war profiteer.

We meet the Rosen family at the beginning of WWII before things became so bad for the Jewish residents of Poland. Eli and Esther had a wonderful marriage and a beautiful son Eli ran a thriving family business until the Germans invaded and their lives were uncertain. A demon of a business partner “sold” his protection from the Germans to the family. Everything came with a price and as time passed, Eli realized that Max was dishonest and sneaky yet Eli made deals with Max despite his better judgment to protect his family. 

I must be careful not to reveal spoilers and thereby ruin a wonderful read. Writer Balson brings us a cast of characters that we immediately connect with for better or worse. I could sense Eli’s emotion throughout as well as Max’s arrogance and despicability. Balson takes us back to a very sad time in history through these characters and a fascinating plot. Max is indeed a snake who somehow manages to live by thievery, scamming, murder, threats, extortion, payoffs and corruption. But then there is also the beauty of love in the novel as well along with the power of redemption. “Eli’s Promise” is a page-turner that is gripping and unforgettable.

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