Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela's search for the truth about her own family doom them both?
I admire Evie Woolmore's courage in tackling a story set in the Warsaw Ghetto. I doubt I could ever do the same. The subject of the holocaust is one which is extremely sensitive and I suspect I could never be confident that my historical research was sufficient to tackle this darkest of periods in human history.
Evie Woolmore's language and writing style are excellent. As the description above shows, there are two story lines in this book - Tom's story set in the present day and Ela's in 1942 -but the two are linked as the two central characters discover they can talk to each other. As someone who spends half her year in the Czech Republic, I was struck by how accurately Evie Woolmore portrays life in Warsaw. There was much here that struck a chord, for example the brightly coloured dyed hair of one of the Polish characters.
Ela's story opens strongly with the description of her job working for the Germans, which consisted of disposing of the dead, looting their bodies and homes of any valuables. This shows some of the horror of the ghetto. However as the book went on there were times when I found the portrayal of Ela's life less believable, for example I had a problem with the ease with which Ela talks to her sister about a contact with a resistance member. Ela's family are actually very well-off in terms of most of the families around them. They are not living six to a room, which was the norm in the ghetto, and they even occasionally eat meat, when thousands of people were dying each month, most of hunger. I would have liked Ela to feel survivor's guilt, perhaps to do something about helping others.
Both stories are written in the present tense and in the third person. This is essential to the story as at its heart is the fact that Tom and we know the awful truth of what will happen to the inhabitants of the ghetto and Ela's story, but Ela of course does not. Tom is faced with the dilemma of whether to warn Ela, when she probably can do nothing about her fate. I was reminded of the work of Kate Atkinson, where the magic realism in the book poses philosophical questions and is at the heart of the dramatic tension. But is it right to use magic realism in this way, when the subject matter is so dramatic? Would I have liked the book more if it had simply been Ela's story, perhaps with Tom discovering it? Probably. But I certainly did get drawn in to Ela's story and wanted to see if she survived.
I was given this book by the author in return for an honest review.