The Blurb (from Goodreads):
In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.
Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.
Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it.
In her new novel, Kelly Rimmer weaves together two first-person points-of-view. One is set now, and the other in Poland during the terrible years of the Nazi occupation. I love dual timeline novels, but usually I prefer the story set in the past. This book is so perfectly balanced and the contemporary voice so strong and real, that I found myself loving both.
In the story set now, Alice has devoted her life to caring for her son, Eddie, who has autism spectrum disorder. She has put aside her own plans and, indeed, her own needs, to make sure that he is safe and managing the best he can in a world that overwhelms him. But Alice’s beloved grandmother is dying, and she has made one last request of Alice. Go to Poland, she says. Or, at least, that is what Alice thinks she says. Her grandmother has lost the ability to speak, due to a stroke, and Alice must try to understand what her Babcia wants, just as she is constantly struggling to understand her son.
Babcia has a box of memories: an old photograph, a baby’s shoe, and a letter. These are the only clues Alice has to find out what happened to her grandmother so long ago in Poland.
The story moves back then to 1942, where Alina is a young woman in love. But the German invasion turns her life upside-down. Tomasz, her betrothed, is trapped in Warsaw and Alina and her family are struggling just to survive. Slowly the two stories unspool, the dramatic tension increasing until I could not tear myself away from the pages. Alina’s fear and her bravery, her grief and her resolve, made her a very sympathetic heroine and I was so hoping all would work out for her and Tomasz.
It was Alice’s story that surprised me the most, however. Her quest to help her grandmother, her love for her family, and the way she grew over the course of the narrative was so moving, I ended the book with a great big lump in my throat. Cleverly constructed and beautifully written, this is a book that deserves to win a great many accolades and a wide audience.