Thursday, May 2, 2019

#BookReview: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

War Era Historical

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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. 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.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to say that Kelly Rimmer’s The Things We Cannot Say got under my skin. I am convinced those who bore witness took the audible exasperations I uttered at my kindle while reading this book as confirmation of my insanity, but Rimmer’s portrait of Alice’s family life is so tangibly poignant that I couldn’t help myself. Powerful writing inspires response, and there’s simply no denying that Rimmer’s mastery of language and gift for storytelling demands such in spades.

Having said this, I want to address the question I hope you’re all asking yourself at this point: Who in all hell is Alice?

I swear on all the goodness of coffee, the only stimulant in my system is caffeine. I’ve not lost it, and neither have you. Marketing, for some reason known only to the gods of publishing, released the US edition of this book with a description that fails to note the novel’s second narrator. Half of this book, arguably the more compelling and emotional half, centers on a modern marriage struggling to cope in the face of spousal resentment, poor communication, and the challenges of raising a child with autism.

It’s compelling material, to say the least, it’s beautifully drawn, and it looks like it’d shelf nicely alongside Rimmer’s backlist of contemporary women’s fiction. My problem and I stress this is my problem as it has more to do with my tastes than any perceived flaw, is that Alina’s storyline did not read with the same authenticity or depth as Alice’s. All the working parts are in place, but the historic presentation felt mechanical and pale alongside the emotional drama of the contemporary storyline.

Now I don’t blame you for thinking I am a heartless critic at this point, but before you come to the wrong conclusion, understand that I came to this book for the historical content and left it feeling the history was the weakest part of the narrative. The Things We Cannot Say introduced me to an author with immense talent, but I can’t deny feeling misled into thinking the novel a heavier historical than it is (thank you marketing!). I definitely see myself recommending the book to fellow readers, but at the end of the day, that recommendation will cite Rimmer’s emotional rendering of women and their life experiences far more often than it will her illustration of Poland’s occupation.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 30, 2019

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