The cover of Mitch Albom’s newest book, “The Little Liar,” foreshadows its compelling narrative. Autumnal light fades into the sunset as the silhouette of a small boy runs after a departing train, soldiers bearing arms look on from a landing above him.
This good boy is Nico Krispis, a truth-teller who prides himself on honesty, but in his hometown of Salonika, Greece, Nico tells a lie that will cost an untold number of Jews their lives. Too late, the boy discovers the train is headed for Auschwitz, and that Germans who have infiltrated the village are bent on extermination of the town’s Jewish population.
Albom, best known for his memoir “Tuesdays with Morrie,” writes introspective books like “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” and “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” that invite us to examine our consciences as he creates protagonists who struggle with spirituality, morals, and decisions.
The author accomplishes this once again with Nico, following his life from boyhood to the years after the war, and presenting narrative arcs of three other well drawn characters, Nico’s older brother Sebastian; Fannie, a girl special to each of the brothers; and Udo Graf, a despicable, driven Nazi officer bent on carrying out Hitler’s “horrifying plan” in Salonika, the only community in Europe in which the majority of its citizens were Jewish, making it a “ripe target for the Nazis and their SS, troops.”
As the Nazis infiltrate Salonkia their mistreatment of the Jews grows increasingly severe, a demoralization Nico observes, his peaceful, loving parents, grandparents and siblings struggling as he helplessly looks on. Nico, lauded as the family’s golden boy, three years younger than Sebastian, wants to help his family in any way that he can. The boy is fodder for the Nazis and trusts them when they tell him to spread the word to the Jews that they are being herded onto the train to go to a safe place where they will be reunited with their families, have plentiful food and good jobs.
For the first time in young life, Nico tells a lie, one that will cost him dearly, change him from that day forward into a pathological liar. Readers journey with Nico through the turbulent, heartbreaking war years, where one Nazi atrocity follows another into post-war America where he becomes a highly successful businessman, yet remains soulless, tortured by a secret he can’t make peace with.
“The Little Liar” is engaging from the first page, easy to get into, as is the case with Albom books, the author an apt storyteller, but this allegorical novel is one of his best. It brings to light an area of the Nazi occupation I’d not read about before, citing actual events that took place—historical information encased in a character-driven tale that makes one stop and think about truth, the different ways in which we bend and evade it, and accept mistruths that might cost us in ways we can’t foresee.