The Things We Cannot Say – Kelly Rimmer

In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you like WWII-era historical fiction, you’ll love this book. There’s romance, political intrigue, LOTS of heartfelt emotion and heartache, and to boot, it’s well-written and fast-paced. It’s told from two perspectives: Alina as a young woman during the war, and Alice in present-day discovering her grandmother’s past, which culminates in an unexpected trip to Poland and a shocking family secret (put that way, almost sounds like Buzzfeed clickbait). The idea behind it is pretty original (to me, at least), and I enjoyed reading it.

So why is my rating so mixed?

The story is just a little too…perfect. Alina is, naturally, a beautiful young woman and her lover Tomasz is handsome and brave. The romance is pretty schmaltzy and Romeo-and-Juliet…you know, think “I would rather die than live without you!” “I would die for you too!”. Their families struggle during the war, but in a “glossy” way – solutions seem to always be right around the corner. (mild spoilers) For instance, when Alina’s family seems to run out of food, she can’t fathom how her parents still manage to procure eggs and jam and bread every day – it turns out her mother had a secret larder where she’d hoarded food for months leading up to the starvation period. And when Alina and friends make their escape from the Nazis, so many things could have gone wrong but ultimately they make it to safety without major setbacks. Predictability is always a presence! The author is great at giving a sense of danger and urgency but never putting her characters in too much danger.

BUT that doesn’t mean it was a bad book by any means. I finished in just over a day because I just knew there had to be a big twist and couldn’t wait to see how it ended. And what a great twist it was! Yes, it was kind of predictable as well once you reached a certain point in the story, but actually reading it still left a big impact. I definitely shed some tears by the end with all the heavy-hitting emotion.

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