Title: Karolina’s Twins by Ronald H. Balson
Liam and Catherine Series Book Three
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (WWII), Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: A
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
She made a promise in desperation
Now it’s time to keep it
Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.
Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?
Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.
Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes Karolina’s Twins, a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond.
Based on real life events, Karolina’s Twins by Ronald H. Balson is a riveting novel about a Holocaust survivor’s search for her best friend’s twin daughters more than 70 years later. Although this is the third book featuring lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart, it can be read as a standalone.
At 89 years of age, Lena Woodward might be feeling the physical effects of her advanced years but her mind is still sharp as a tack. Realizing she is running out of time to fulfill a long ago promise, she contacts Liam and Catherine to help her locate her childhood friend Karolina Neuman’s twin daughters whom she has not seen since they were just a few months old. Lena and Karolina are childhood friends whose lives were torn apart when the Nazis invaded their hometown in Poland.
Forced to work as seamstresses in a coat factory, the young women manage, with the help of Karolina’s German lover, to survive extreme conditions. Not long after Karolina gives birth to twin daughters, the coat factory shuts down and the women are sent to Gross-Rosen concentration camp where they are forced to work as slave labor. Knowing the babies’ fate if they arrive at the camp, Lena and Karolina take drastic measures that will hopefully save the girls from a horrific fate. After surviving Auschwitz, Lena marries and moves to the United State but the fate of Karolina’s twins weighs heavily on her mind.
Needing to know whether or not the girls survived, Lena hopes Liam and Catherine can trace the girls’ whereabouts. However, her son Arthur is convinced she is suffering from dementia and his efforts to have her declared incompetent could interfere with their efforts. After so many years have passed and hampered by the impending court case, will Liam and Catherine uncover the truth about what happened to Karolina’s twins?
Lena’s life in Poland was rather idyllic in the years before the Nazi occupation. Her parents are well-respected shop owners in the Jewish community where they live a rather comfortable life. Her friendship with Karolina begins while they are attending public school together and although Lena eventually transfers to a private school, they remain close friends.
As the Nazis begin rising to power, Lena’s father starts making arrangements for the family to immigrate from Poland, but the Germans invade Poland before they are able to leave. Stripped of their business and forced to adhere to the strict rules all Jews must follow, Lena’s father is a member of the Polish resistance. After he and the rest of the family are selected for “relocation”, Lena, now a teenager, remains in hiding until their home is taken over by Germans and she begins searching for her missing family.
Finding shelter in the ghetto, she works in the coat factory where she is reunited with Karolina. Conditions are almost unbearable as the young women live without running water, electricity and heat as they work long hours in the factory. Food is strictly rationed and as winter descends, the harsh weather and poor nutrition take a horrific toll on the people living in the ghetto.
In the midst of this unimaginable horror, the birth of Karolina’s twins is an unexpected bright spot but as the war continues, the Nazis put their plans in motion to exterminate the Jews. More and more Jews are sent to concentration camps where children, the elderly and the infirm are separated and sent to their deaths. Those who are healthy are selected to work as slave labor but their lives are often cut short as malnutrition, harsh living conditions and illness take their toll. Knowing full well what will happen to the babies, the women make a split second decision to try to save them from certain death but this choice haunts Lena for the most of her life.
Interspersed with Lena’s account of her wartime experiences is Arthur’s effort to have her declared incompetent. He is quite odious and it is difficult to ascertain his motives for the case. Is Arthur genuinely concerned for his mother’s health? Or are his reasons financially motivated due to his mother’s wealth? His heavy-handed tactics and sneering conversations certainly cloud the issue and leave everyone wondering what he hopes to accomplish with his actions.
Although some of the dialogue is a little awkward and the court case is a little overly dramatic (and unnecessary), Karolina’s Twins is an absolutely compelling novel about Lena’s experiences as a Jewish woman living in Nazi occupied Poland. Ronald H. Balson deftly blends fact with fiction and brings this fictionalized account of actual events vibrantly to life. This poignant story is a gripping and educational read that I highly recommend.