Title: The Things We Cannot Say
Author: Kelly Rimmer
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th February 2019
Synopsis: A searing page-turner of family secrets and the legacy of war by the Top 10 bestselling Australian author of BEFORE I LET YOU GO
2019 Life changed beyond recognition for Alice when her son, Eddie, was born with autism spectrum disorder. She must do everything to support him, but at what cost to her family? When her cherished grandmother is hospitalised, a hidden box of mementoes reveals a tattered photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe and a letter. Her grandmother begs Alice to return to Poland to see what became of those she held dearest.
WWII Alina and Tomasz are childhood sweethearts. The night before he leaves for college, Tomasz proposes marriage. But when their village falls to the Nazis, Alina doesn’t know if Tomasz is alive or dead.
2019 In Poland, separated from her family, Alice begins to uncover the story her grandmother is so desperate to tell, and discovers a love that bloomed in the winter of 1942. As a painful family history comes to light, will the struggles of the past and present finally reach a heartbreaking resolution?
Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Things We Cannot Say unearths a tragic love story and a family secret whose far-reaching effects will alter lives forever.
There is always something powerful about novels set in times of war or tragedy – they reveal something about who we really are, and the lengths people will go to so they can protect those they love, their family, their friends, and in Poland during the war, those they might not even know. The Things We Cannot Say is a dual storyline, told from the perspective of two generations – Alina, in the early 1940s, and her granddaughter, Alice, in 2019.
We meet Alina and Tomasz first, at a wedding in the Soviet Union, and then we slip into 2019, where Alice is with her son Eddie, who has autism, and is doing all she can to support him and her family when her beloved babcia,her grandmother, Hanna, becomes ill and is rushed to hospital. From here, Alice’s journey begins as her routine with Eddie is suddenly her routine is thrown into jeopardy, but when she discovers the app she uses to communicate with Eddie works for Hanna, and is sent on a quest to Poland to uncover Hanna’s past, and the secrets of a family she never knew.
In 1941, Alina and her family watch as the German invasion of Poland, which started in 1939, slowly round up Jews, take over farm houses and turn Polish families out, and send Polish citizens off to work for the Reich in camps. From her farmyards, she can see the black smoke billowing from what he learns later is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the smell unlike any other. She helps her friend, Tomasz, after his father is killed, and her family helps him further, until it becomes too dangerous, and Alina must leave Poland – and never look back.
Alice and Alina alternate on average, one to three chapters at a time, depending on what aspects of the story need attention, and in each perspective, family plays a large role: Alina and her family, and their attempts to defy the Nazis will sacrifice so much for the freedom and safety of some. Whilst in 2019, Alice is grappling with helping Eddie, and being there for her daughter and husband as well. When herbabcia sends her off to Poland, she can only hope that her family won’t implode while she is gone.
Woven throughout, is the love story of Tomasz and Alina, which at first, didn’t feel as obvious as some, and i liked this – I liked that it wasn’t the focus and developed and some things just happened spontaneously. In the time of war for Alina, her family and Tomasz, there are words that cannot be spoken, because of fear, and in the future for Hanna and Eddie, words that cannot physically be spoken – which makes the title very fitting, and shows the different ways that people find to communicate when they cannot physically speak – whatever the reason.
Much World War Two literature focuses on the Holocaust – in this one, it is present, and has an impact on the reader and characters, but it is the story of how one Catholic family is willing to sacrifice everything to help those being discriminated against by people who are brutal and will go at any lengths to achieve their own means as well.
Kelly Rimmer created a very realistic world – I could smell the burning bodies, see the woods, and even though I haven’t been, imagine a post-war and wartime Poland, a country that after the war, was under Soviet Control until 1991, and having visited another country that had been in the Communist Bloc, the Czech Republic, I could imagine the contrast of older buildings, versus the Communist buildings and the more modern ones – a mixture of various times in history and a contrast of the bleak Communist era, and the old, historical buildings, as well as hints of modernity creeping in. I imagine it is similar in Poland.
The power of this story is in the characters, and what they do to protect and care for their families, and because it was inspired by the author’s own family history, it is a very meaningful and personal story – the characters are alive and vibrant, and the world that they inhabit is one that history will never forget, that these people and their families will never forget. There are many events in history we need to remember, many things that should never be forgotten. That is why novels like this are powerful and needed: so we don’t forget the human cost is more than just numbers on a page.