The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
Read: 3 - 8 July 2020
Release year: 2019
Over the past few months, I have selected a number of books to read because they were on various best seller lists. I was convinced that I couldn't go wrong choosing one of these as a lot of people like and buy them, but it made me realise that I probably have a different taste in books than the people who represent these best seller lists. Books like American Dirt, Queenie and Such a Fun Age just aren't my cup of tea and I'm not going to waste my time writing a blog post about them. One of the exceptions, though, was Kelly Rimmer's The Things We Cannot Say. I absolutely devoured this book to the point where I had to force myself to put it down as I wasn't getting enough sleep. The book alternates between two protagonists, but their stories take place in two different eras. Alina's events take place in Poland during World War II, while we follow Alice in the United States in the present.
Alina is a young woman who ended up losing all of her friends and family after the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II. Before the events of the war, Alina's fiancé Tomasz heads to Warsaw to become a doctor, but they lose contact during the war. Her brothers, parents and other villagers are either sent to labor camps or killed. When Tomasz suddenly returns he turns out to be in a lot of trouble as he has been involved with Jews. Tomasz makes an agreement to flee to the Unites States with Alina, but his plan changes when a Jewish family of three he has been hiding in the village is discovered by the Nazis. The mother and her newborn child are murdered, while the father is 'spared' by the Nazis as a cruel punishment. Tomasz decides that this man must take his place in the escape plan, including assuming his identity, as he wouldn't survive otherwise. Alina is separated from her fiancé again, but she continues to hope to reconcile with him in the future.
In the present we learn about Alice and her family. Alice is under a lot of pressure at home. She has a seven-year-old son, Eddie, who is on the autism spectrum and therefore cannot communicate through speech. Her 10-year-old daughter, Callie, is beyond her age when it comes to academic work and feels neglected by her parents and teachers. Her relationship with her husband has become strained as he is very busy with work and finds it difficult to connect to their son. On top of this, her beloved grandmother ends up in the hospital after a stroke, leaving her unable to speak. When her grandmother realises that she will not leave the hospital again, she asks Alice, using Eddie's communication app on his iPad, to travel to her home country of Poland to find her husband Tomasz. At first, Alice is confused as she believes her grandfather Tomasz passed away a few years ago, but she accepts her grandmother's request and leaves the care of her children in the hands of her husband.
Hopefully this isn't a spoiler, but for me it was very clear from the start that Alice's grandmother is Alina. I absolutely loved that the story was told in two different timelines and both were equally moving. Both women are very courageous in their own way, working through their problems defined by the era they live in. We learn what happened to Alina and Tomasz at the end of the book when Alina's story is wrapped up and Alice discovers the missing pieces in her grandmother's story through her quest in Poland. This book is powerful, emotional will ultimately leave you heartbroken.
It costs our ancestors too damned much for us to have this life - the best thing we can do to honor them is to live it to its fullest.