Niagara Gazette —
Every now and then I would get an email from Joe, politely asking if I had read “Klara.” Last August, when I told them I had passed the book along, he said he would drop another off. And he did. I told him I would try to read it.
As a writer, I appreciated his determination. And that’s actually what got me. I finally brought “Klara” home with me. Then I put it on my nightstand, next to my bed. Facedown.
Eventually, one night — simply because I had told Joe I would try to read it — I picked up “Klara” and tried to read it.
Almost immediately, I understood why Joseph Leary had worked so hard to get me to read his book.
“Klara,” got to me in a way I never expected. It’s the story of a man who lives in a Ukraine neighborhood in Chicago in the 70s and how he is brought to trial for crimes he committed against Jews during World War II.
“Klara,” is Leary’s effort to bring such a terrible story to life, but the center of the tale is infused with love. The heroine, Klara, a child that the Ukraine soldier rescued from extermination, is really the the story’s heart and her gentle beauty and loving ways are what grabbed me, along with the idea of one gentle beautiful soul save almost by coincidence, while millions of others perished.
Leary’s story immersed me in the questions that have puzzled me since I first learned of the Holocaust. Why did seemingly honest, good people join the effort to exterminate the Jews. How did the Nazis get so many of them to stand by. And how did they live with their actions after the war.
The piece is infused with decisions. Each of the major characters is forced to choose between courage or cowardice. And Leary examines their lives as an unfolding from such decisions. His careful, simple sentences and thoughtful storytelling took me to a place that I had never wanted to return. But my time spent with Leary’s story helped me see, in a manner I’d never quite seen before, that when faced with a life or death decision, forced to choose between your own life or the life of others, who among us can ever be certain how we will behave.