The Warsaw Orphan
by Kelly Rimmer
World War II is a popular subject for historical fiction. There are so many countries involved along with a variety of religions and philosophies. Lots of major political figures vie for power. Lives are turned upside down, families destroyed, and cultural icons demolished. In the midst of this upheaval, the citizens of Poland find themselves in a tug of war between Nazi Germany and the Red Army of the Soviet Union.
Roman, raised Catholic, is part Jewish. As a teenager he feels compelled to keep his Jewish family safe and later to fight from the Warsaw Ghetto with the Resistance for Poland’s freedom. Emilia (known as Elzbieta on her false identity papers) finds a way to work daily in the Ghetto under horrible conditions to help the people there who are overcrowded and sick from diseases and malnutrition. Their paths cross, and Roman and Emilia begin a friendship that lasts across the years.
In The Warsaw Orphan, Kelly Rimmer creates three dimensional characters who change and mature as a result of both growing up and experiencing the dramatic events that the war brings into their lives. They both see and endure things no one should have to—especially not teenagers. There are many characters of note and none of them see life as black and white. Many events take place in the grey area of life where one’s values and necessities do not line up perfectly. Some of the characters are Christian, some are Jewish, and others are atheists. Some are moral, decent people while others are torturing murderers.
The plot is told alternately from Roman’s and Emilia’s points of view. This is an effective way of narrating this story as it takes us on the personal journey each has to endure. There are decisions the characters have to make that affect others, not just themselves. The plot leads the reader through the many emotions that engulf the characters: grief, fear, shame, guilt, revenge. There are also moments of kindness, love, protectiveness, and generosity.
I thought The Warsaw Orphan was good, but the final fourth of the book was both surprising and riveting. You can’t expect a book about WWII to be filled with happiness and light, but I was amazed at Rimmer’s creative abilities to put her characters in desperate situations and then resolve them in a hopeful and rational way.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Historical Fiction, General Fiction
Publication: June 1, 2021—Harlequin (Graydon House)
Bystanders have allowed themselves to be convinced that the Jews are not like us, and as soon as you convince someone that a group of people is not human, they will allow you to treat them as badly as you wish.
Those agonizing weeks during the Uprising confirmed that art is not always for the viewer. Sometimes the very act of creating can mean salvation for the artist.
As punishment for our decision to rebel, our homes, our libraries, our monuments and our infrastructure would be reduced to dust. It wasn’t enough that they had taken our people and our homes—they were going to take what was left of our culture.