Elliot Rosenzweig, a wealthy Chicago philanthropist, is attending opening night at the opera. Ben Solomon, a retired Polish immigrant, makes his way through the crowd and shoves a gun in Rosenzweig's face, denouncing him as former SS officer, Otto Piatek. Solomon is blind-sided, knocked to the floor and taken away. Rosenzweig uses his enormous influence to get Solomon released from jail, but Solomon commences a relentless pursuit to bring Rosenzweig before the courts to answer for war crimes. Solomon finds a young attorney, Catherine Lockhart, to whom he recounts his family's struggles and heroisms during the war, revealing to her that he and Piatek grew up as brothers in the same household. Once We Were Brothers is a contemporary legal thriller and a poignant look back into the lives of small town Poland during World War II.
I was fascinated by the plot line of this book, Ben is slow and methodical in giving the full history of his relationship with Piatek and how he and his family were ultimately betrayed by this "brother". It was horrifying to read some of the things that Ben's family endured as Polish Jews and to realize that their stories were probably typical. What was most amazing to me was to watch how Piatek evolved from a loyal member of Ben's family, to a power hungry Nazi officer - willing to do whatever was necessary to continue to advance in the party. It gave me some insight into how a person can devolve into something that doesn't even seem human.
Although the story itself was fascinating, I was disappointed in the quality of the writing and the storytelling. It seemed pretty simplistic and was almost distracting. With a better editor, it might have bumped up the rating into the A category and made this book one to highly recommend. As it is written, I would give it about a B-