It begins with the discovery of a tattered photo, a letter and a tiny leather shoe…
World War Two, Poland. 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. 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. 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?
The Things We Cannot Say is a moving and powerful story about one family and their experience of the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Poland. The novel focuses on Alina and her family as their whole world shifts drastically. We read as they try their best to hold on to all they hold most dear and retain their humanity and morals. As well as the upheaval around them, there is a beautiful love story between Alina and Tomasz which is a running thread throughout the story which is truly sweet and gives the story some lighter moments.
I was completely invested in the story and got so attached to all the characters, especially Alina and Tomasz. The novel is told in a dual narrative form, one thread following Alina in the 1940’s and the other in present day, following Alice in 2019. Personally I found myself way more interested in the Alina sections but Alices narrative also really grew on me eventually. The two women have such different lives but the common thread is their love for their family and desire to do what is right for the people they love.
Alice is a character who is dealing with a busy and challenging home life; her son is on the Autism spectrum, she has a precocious daughter and she has a strained relationship with her husband. On top of her own troubles, her beloved grandmother or Babcia as she is referred to throughout the novel, has suffered serious health issues. In the face of the knowledge that Babcia may not have long left, she sets Alice the task of going to Poland and finding the answers to secrets which have plagued her whole life…
Not only is the story compelling, but it provides an important lesson or reminder to have compassion and to fight against injustice. It’s also a reminder never to forget the Holocaust and the countless people who were lost during it, every single individual had a story and The Things We Cannot Say is just one possible story among many. The author actually has a personal connection with Poland and the war and there are some photos included at the end of her visit and her families farm house which added an extra personal touch.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and was deeply touched by this story of hope, resilience and remembrance in the face of such great loss. I encourage any readers who wish to read an emotional and eye opening novel to pick up The Things We Cannot Say, you won’t regret it.
Until next time,