Like most books I choose to read, I selected this one because of its lovely front cover. (And I know that is literally not what you’re meant to do, with anything in life, but I shamefully do. Just with books. I hope.)
I was delighted to learn that Liam Pieper is an Australian author. And a pretty decent one at that 🙂
This book follows the story of 3 main characters: Adam Kulakov, Tess (his wife) and Arkady (his grandfather).
I’ll just start by saying that I was expecting this to be a lovely, romantic story about an old man who creates toys to make children happy. That’s not really the case. Actually, the characters are quite… complicated.
Let’s start with Adam: he’s a cocky, entitled, horrible pedophile, having had an affair with a 14-year-old school girl. Ew, gross, no. While he loves his wife and child, he thinks he can do whatever he wants. And yes, he had a crap childhood. His parents were not around and his father died young. But still, Adam is not a nice guy.
Example: we learn that as a young adult he crashed his car into a parked car while drink driving one night. While the other car was totalled, his was unharmed. So he took it as a blessing from above and drove his car away thankfully, without a care for the person whose car he just demolished.
You can see what sort of character he is from that. Just nasty.
Anyway, Tess is somewhat likeable, working hard to keep the family toy business in order. She loves her child and she also loves her husband’s grandfather Arkady. When Arkady has a stroke and his health starts to go downhill, she looks out for him while Adam is off doing who knows what, being useless.
Then we have Arkady. We hear his story through flashbacks to his past before and during his time in Auschwitz. What a horrendous experience. It is awful to hear of life inside the camp and what Arkady (as a homosexual) had to endure and had to see. Just awful.
But, okay, SPOILER WARNING:
A massive twist I didn’t see coming was that the Arkady we know in Tess and Adam’s life is actually a German doctor from Auschwitz who worked with the real Arkady and respected him. But, when the war was ending the doctor (Dieter) killed Arkady and stole his identity so he could escape and live and not be punished for the terrible war crimes he committed. Against children 😦
So Dieter became Arkady, even becoming fluent in Russian and taking Arkady’s story of making toys for children in the concentration camp. He moved to Australia and started a new life.
Full on stuff.
So as I mentioned, the story was different from what I imagined, having judged the book by its cover. But it was good. Pieper can write! Here’s a nice passage:
They turned and walked into the Jewish cemetery on Miodowa Street. Something in the grand cobbled walls, the oaks that grew scattered between the gravestones, gave tranquillity to the place. The Krakow air, usually a miasma of coal smoke and merchants yelling at each other, was clean and quiet here. Graves, old and grand, so ancient the inscriptions had rubbed off, were sinking into the ground, tipped over by creeping roots from the trees, listing through the years.
And then this is awesome:
The dead are tossed and tumbled by time, just like the living. No one stays the person they were buried, not for long.