Book Review: The Things We Cannot Say

Nearly 75 years ago, on 1 September 1939, the Luftwaffe bombed Poland just before the German army invaded. Although the Poles tried to fight back, they were no match for the Nazi war machine, and the Third Reich soon annexed Poland.

The border of the German General Government was established a few miles east of the town of Trzebinia, Poland. On 5 September 1939, just four days after the blitzkrieg, German soldiers marched into Trzebinia and executed 97 people, including local leaders.

Then, from mid-1940 until 1945, approximately 200,000 Polish children were abducted by the Nazis. Those kidnapped were deemed Aryan-looking—fair-skinned and fair-haired—and were adopted or fostered by German families or sent to Schutzstaffel (SS) Home Schools. Children determined to be Slavik in appearance and/or nature were sent to extermination or concentration camps, where they were either worked to death or gassed or were subjected to barbaric medical experiments.

As if things weren’t bad enough, in 1941, Nazi Germany decided that the Polish people must be eradicated so that their lands could be settled by German colonists. As part of the Generalplan Ost, the Nazis’ plan for mass-scale genocide, ethnic cleansing, and colonization, the Polish population was forced to perform hard labor and, through strict rationing, were slowly starved. The Nazis’ goal was to eliminate between 70 and 80 percent of the population (or about 20 million people.)

It is during this horrific time in history that the book, The Things We Cannot Say, written by Kelly Rimmer, begins. The prologue is set in 1942 in a Russian refugee camp where a wedding is taking place. Although this should only be a joyful occasion, it is also a somber one. But the bride refuses to allow the miasma around her to overshadow her outlook: “War had taken everything from me, but I refused to let it shake my confidence in the man I loved.”

The book then alternates chapter-by-chapter, telling the stories of a modern-day, middle-aged American woman named Alice and a World War II-era Polish teenager named Alina.

Alice Michaels is married to a brilliant, constantly working man named Wade. She is the mother of a daughter, also intellectually gifted, and a son, who is severely autistic and has little expressive language. Each day can be a challenge for Alice, who struggles to balance her son’s overwhelming needs with her daughter’s ever-growing list of extracurricular activities. Just when she thinks things couldn’t get more difficult, Alice learns that her biggest supporter, her grandmother (Babcia) has suffered a massive stroke.

Alina Dziak is a young woman living in Trzebinia, Poland. She is engaged to her longtime love, Tomasz Slaski, whose father is the town’s doctor. Alina’s elder sister is married and lives in a big house in town. Alina and her twin older brothers live with their parents and work on their small farm. Unlike Tomasz’ family, Alina’s family is poor. However, despite poverty, the Dziak family is happy—that is until the Nazis invade Poland.

Back and forth, back and forth, the frenetic pace and uncertainties of Alice’s life are intricately woven together with the constant upheaval and overwhelming fear of Alina’s existence.  An extremely emotional and exceptionally well-written narrative, The Things We Cannot Say gives us a glimpse into the lives of two women from different countries in different eras whose worlds are shaped by the challenges they face, both great and small, and how they both find the inner strength to survive and grow.

Long after I finished reading The Things We Cannot Say, its characters remained with me. One of my favorite recent reads, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys first-person narratives or who loves World War II historical fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Graydon House Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Categories: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Things We Cannot Say

  1. Pingback: Crunching the Numbers, 2021 | Princes, Paupers, Pilgrims & Pioneers

  2. Pingback: Crunching the Numbers, 2020 | Princes, Paupers, Pilgrims & Pioneers

  3. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. 🙂


  4. After reading your review, I’ve added it to my Goodreads list.

    Liked by 1 person

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