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Book DetailsISBN: 9780733645839
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Book Review: The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer - Reviewed by CloggieA (24 Apr 2021)
4 stars The Warsaw Orphan is the sixth novel by Australian author, Kelly Rimmer. The Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 is the scene of much desperation, despair and heartbreak. There are disturbing rumours about mass deportations to Treblinka, although sixteen-year-old Roman Gorka’s stepfather Samuel maintains an unlikely positivity about it all, wishfully believing the German propaganda about a clean work camp with better conditions and more food.
It takes a while, but eventually Roman accepts that the truth is radically different, and that reports of extermination might be more accurate than what they are being told by the Kapo and xx. Ultimately, it’s a large group of orphans being marched to a railway platform that moves him to convince his parents to let the social workers smuggle his younger brother, Dawidek and his baby sister Eleanora out of the Ghetto, to safety.
Emilia Slaska has been living under another name, Elzbieta Rabinek, and posing as the daughter of Truda and Mateusz, since her brother Tomasz was executed for assisting Jews. Mateusz’s brother, the ever resourceful Uncle Piotr has moved them out of their town, Trzebinia, into a Warsaw apartment, and manages to acquire plenty of hard-to-find luxuries for them.
Restricted to the apartment and its courtyard, Emilia’s boredom sees her making friends with their neighbour, Sara Wieczorek, a nurse and social worker with the city council’s Department of Health and Social Services.
On the eve of her fourteenth birthday, Emilia accidentally learns what Sara does behind the scenes, and promptly insists on becoming part of it: helping the Jews imprisoned in the Ghetto, and smuggling the children out to loving homes and better care, seems like the most worthwhile thing she can do with her life. Emilia learns just how challenging this work can be, but also discovers a level of personal courage of which she was unaware.
Their initial meeting is a lot less than ideal, but soon enough, Roman and Emilia are enjoying each others company. Two years on, Roman has narrowly escaped deportation and death, and is channelling his righteous anger against their occupying force into resistance activities, becoming a fervent participant in the Warsaw Uprising. As Roman dismisses injuries to return to the fight, they realise they are in love and Emilia is begging Roman care for his life, and heart, as if it were her own.
Eventually, Roman “learned how to suppress the instinct to throw myself unthinkingly into every battle. I had learned to pause and to ask myself, how can I be smart here? How can I guard my life as I would guard hers, just as I promised her I would?” And if Roman survives, and Emilia survives, will their ending be a happy one?
Rimmer easily conveys her setting, the horrific ordeal that Poles in their occupied land suffered, and the agonising decisions that had to be made on a daily basis. Her characters suffer great loss but manage to endure, to adapt, to rebuild. Rimmer knows how to tug on the heart-strings: this is a moving read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Hachette Australia.
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