by Ellen Blake
The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer
The Warsaw Orphan: A WWII Novel by Kelly Rimmer grabbed me from the very beginning and held my attention until the very last page. Meticulously researched, Rimmer’s story details the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto in WWII Poland, while sharing an inspiring tale of courage, love and strength. I clearly saw the characters and felt their hunger and despair. Many of the pages brought tears to my eyes.
I knew the story of Irena Sendler, the real person who saved thousands of children from certain death in Warsaw who I believe inspired this book, but she is not the main character. Rimmer instead tells her tale through the eyes of two teenagers who live on opposite sides of the ghetto wall, providing a unique and interesting perspective.
Elzbieta lives in relative comfort outside the ghetto with her loving and protective adoptive parents. They keep her close to home to shield her from the German army and the unrest in the city. However, Elzbieta is a curious young woman. She begins to secretly visit her neighbor, Sara, a nurse and social worker who works for the Department of Health and Sanitation. Sara smuggles medical supplies inside the walls of the ghetto and helps starving Jewish children to escape. Her work is dangerous and exhausting, and she works tirelessly with a network of people to save those she can. Once Elzbieta realizes what goes on in the ghetto, she becomes part of the effort to help rescue the children.
On one of her trips with Sara, Elzbieta meets Roman, a young man living a crowded impoverished life inside the ghetto. He shares a small apartment with his Jewish mother, stepfather and siblings, and three other Jewish families. Though technically Jewish because his mother was a Jew, Roman’s now deceased father was Catholic and raised him in the church. Roman, uncircumcised and with light coloring, could pass for Aryan and had the option to escape without great difficulty, but chose to stay with his family in the ghetto.
Elzbieta and Roman become close friends and eventually fall in love. However, Elzbieta and her family must flee when Roman joins the resistance group that plans to fight the Germans which puts them in danger. Elzbieta and Roman don’t know if they will find each other again after the war or if they can reclaim their love. Much happens during their separation as the Nazis recede and the Russians take control, further complicating the situation. Rimmer keeps the reader in suspense until the very end.
The bottom line
Kelly Rimmer is a masterful writer of historical fiction. If you liked The Things We Cannot Say: A Novel, you will love The Warsaw Orphan. An unforgettable story that takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions while following the lives of Elzbieta and Roman. I turned each page with great anticipation, hungry to read more about each of the characters and their incredible strength in the face of inconceivable circumstances.
This book is a must read for anyone who likes WWII novels. Published by Harper Collins and now available for pre-order on Amazon, The Warsaw Orphan is due out on June 1, 2021.