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Set in Australia and Poland
Halina Shore is a forensic dentist working in Sydney. She is invited to return to Poland to examine bodies in a mass grave to shed light on whether this was a German or a Polish war crime.
Helina Shore is a forensic dentist. She was born in Poland and moved to Australia when she was nine. Finding herself at loose ends after the death of her taciturn mother, she accepts an invitation to help exhume a mass grave in Poland. The Jews of the town were burned to death in this barn in 1941. Local lore says that the Nazis did it but rumors persist that it was the Polish people who committed the crime. The investigation is supposed to find out the truth but is running against public opinion in this very conservative and nationalistic part of Poland.
To Sum Up
This book is amazing. Go get it and read it or listen to the audio – whatever, just go do it.
The Longer Answer
I am always looking for historical fiction books set in Poland. Generally, I want ones that aren’t about World War II. This book is set in the early 2000s and in 1941. The reason I’m interested in Poland is that my grandmother’s family comes from there. She never told us much. She didn’t like to be reminded that she was Polish.
In this book, Helina’s mother never told her anything about Poland. It all sounded very familiar. Every time Helina found out that her mother had lied about something I laughed. It sounds like my family. They never met an official form that they filled in truthfully.
In the course of listening to this audio, I got back on ancestry.com and got in contact with my second cousin. We’ve been sharing documents about the family. So far I found out about three more children that were siblings of my grandmother who all died young. No one in my family had heard of them. That’s not a surprise considering no one had heard of the adult brother that was murdered either. Grandma didn’t talk about the past.
This book tries to discover what could make neighbors commit atrocities against their neighbors. She has the viewpoints of Jewish survivors and of the people who burnt the barn. She sets this against a picture of Polish nationalism that still exists today and leaves readers wondering how easily it could all happen again. The rationalizations of the perpetrators are chilling.
There is a lot of discussion about identity. This annoyed me a little. I don’t have much tolerance for the plot device of finding out that your parents lied to you about some part of your background and then the character falls apart crying about how they don’t know who they are anymore. You’re the same person you were two minutes ago. Quit yer whinin’!
This can be a hard book to listen to because of the descriptions of what happened to the Jews of Nowa Kalwaria. The author draws you into the story in both times leaving you wanting to find out who was involved and to see if the town can move past it into a brighter future.
This author has written other books about Poland and European immigration into Australia – both historical fiction and nonfiction. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.