Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Emma's Review: The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

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?

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Many thanks to Headline Review via NetGalley for my copy of The Things We Cannot Say to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

I had thought that Kelly Rimmer was a new author for me before beginning The Things We Cannot Say but I have since discovered that several years ago I read The Secret Daughter. This book is vastly different, this time the genre being my favourite - historical fiction with a dual timeline at its centre. Time and time again I see books mentioned as being heartbreaking and a devastating read and I think to myself these terms are used far too frequently and too easily in order to describe a book. But with this story I definitely agree with these sentiments -The Things We Cannot Say is a powerful, haunting and heartbreaking read with love and sacrifice as its main themes.

Kelly Rimmer has written an astonishing book that certainly packs a punch and leaves you an emotional wreck upon completion. It's difficult to read through the final few pages as you will have a lump in your throat. Yes this book is set during World War Two and fans of the genre will have read countless books based in or around that turbulent and horrific time but it's the way the author gets right inside the hearts and minds of her characters and portrays the depths of their feelings which impact on the many important decisions they have to make that set this book apart from all the rest. It is a stunning read which without doubt will leave a lasting impression on you.

Moving between occupied Poland during the early years of the war and modern day Florida, the author weaves an incredible story of desperation, trauma, atonement, penance, love, loss and dedication. The title of the book couldn't be more apt considering several of the main characters in the present day cannot communicate and it's the things that have been left unsaid, the things hidden that cause a ripple affect to be set in motion. Alice is set upon a reluctant journey to seek answers, to find closure but in doing so she opens a whole new door to a life she never knew existed but also the cracks in her own family are exposed. The question is can the past be reconciled with the present? Has the damage already done to her own family unit through lack of communication, understanding and acceptance gone so far that it cannot be spoken about in an attempt to fix it?

Alice's beloved grandmother Babcia is 95 and having suffered a stroke she is left unable to communicate. This life altering event is the catalyst that sets in motion a train of events, recollections and life experiences that will alter many people's perceptions of the world in which they live in and the people they surround themselves with. Their attitudes will perhaps change and they may all realise the true depth and power of four little words - love. Or maybe things will get too challenging and difficult for acceptance to come forth?

The story moves between Alina in Poland during World War Two and Alice in the present as she struggles to cope with the effects of her grandmothers stroke. Life is not easy for Alice anyway and as Babcia was the one person who she feels so close to and the person who more or less raised her as her own mother was very much pre occupied with her job as a judge she feels lost and afraid as to what the future holds.

Alice is a woman under constant pressure and the further I read through the book I felt quite a lot of it was of her own making. She didn't reach out and ask for the help and support she needed in caring for her son Eddie who was on the autism spectrum. I felt the lack of communication and the ability to work as a pair and ask questions between herself and husband Wade was the reason she had become so confined in her life. Her daughter Callie was a child genius, way ahead of her age in terms of academic work, but I felt as Alice concentrated so much on Eddie and all his strict routines that Callie got neglected. Don't get me wrong I very much admired Alice for the way she always tried her best for Eddie. The communication app on his Ipad was an incredible tool which proved pivotal to the plot as it benefited Babcia too and without this the things already left unsaid would have forever remained so. As Alice battles with her conscience and family obligations she accepts a challenge from Babcia. Babcia pleads with her to do the right thing, to return to Poland to seek the answers to so many burning questions. I desperately hoped that Alice would do what Babcia was asking of her as I felt it would be the making of Alice and also it would quash the restless spirit and heart of an old woman who had witnessed so much but someone who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love.

Alina was only seven years old when she decided that one day she would marry Tomasz. Even from such a young age she loved him deeply and knew that he was the man she was destined to spend the rest of her life with. He had a way of speaking that made anything seem possible and she believed he could help her dreams come true. As they enjoy their childhood and time spent together, the years pass by but as we reach 1938/39 hatred and propaganda are growing within Germany. Evil is spreading its roots and expanding its grip ever further. The people of Poland realise invasion is inevitable and the fear and apprehension seeps from the pages. Alina is only 17 and lives with her parents and brothers working on a farm outside the small town of Trzebina. They eke out an existence as best they can but life is tough but the love Alina has for Tomasz only grows and strengthens and gives her comfort and peace. As the Nazi's invade and life is forever changed Alina's world is torn apart. Her family and friends witness unspeakable horrors ad their existence is threatened.

Life under the Nazi regime was tough and full of horrors and endless hardship but they struggle on in an attempt to weather the storm which they find themselves at the centre of. Death and separation play strong roles and leave the reader in fear for what the eventual outcome may be. But what shines through is the love and devotion that Alina and Tomasz have for each other. Any innocence that lingered in the personality of Alina is quickly shattered as she has to face some harsh realities and brutal truths. In some ways she very much didn't know what was going on in terms of the bigger picture and I felt she wanted to remain within that stance.

But circumstances force change upon her life and it is how she handles these changes is what make her a remarkable character. A character whom you witness undergo so much change and for the better as I felt she gained strength, courage and power when the wool was finally pulled from her eyes. She had no choice but to grow up but it is the devotion, respect and love that she has for Tomasz that will go a long way in being the driving force in her life and the same can also be said for him. Their relationship felt real and genuine and that they were made for each other. But when they are faced with a painful decision it's the results of this that form the backbone of what was a breathtaking story. To say any more would detract and spoil the read for people but suffice to say it's what ensues that makes for a riveting read that has you on the edge of your seat the further the story develops and the pace and tension are ramped up.

Usually I find one strand of a dual time line story stronger, more well developed and far more interesting than another. But here both strands were brilliantly written and leave you rapidly turning the pages keen to discover more. The author slowly peels back the layers piece by piece to unveil an incredible overall picture. She shows how communication is so vital and important and that the decisions and promises we make will impact us forever.

Grief, love, loyalty and the incredible power of sacrifice also play such pivotal roles within both the modern day storyline and the past.This was a  fascinating, emotional and brilliant story inspired by the author's family history with a deeply satisfying ending tying both threads of the story together very well.  Kelly Rimmer should be proud of herself for the superb writing, well developed plot, the twists and turns and the feelings and emotions it inspires within the reader. The Things We Cannot Say is a book that should not be left lingering on a bookshelf waiting to be read one day. It's a story that needs to be read as soon as possible in order to appreciate the talents and story telling ability of Kelly Rimmer.

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