2017 Reviews · Australian · historical fiction · war · World War II

Book Review: The Toymaker by Liam Pieper

Title: The Toymakertoy-maker

Author: Liam Pieper

Published: June 27th 2016

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 272

Genres: Fiction, War, Historical, Australian

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

A person is defined by the secrets they keep . . .
Adam Kulakov likes his life. He’s on the right side of middle age; the toy company he owns brightens the lives of children around the world; and he has more money than he can ever spend, a wife and child he adores, and as many mistresses as he can reasonably hide from them.
And he is not the only one with secrets. In 1944, Adam’s grandfather, Arkady, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and given an impossible choice. Now, as he’s coming to the end of his life, he has to keep the truth from his family, and hold back the crushing memories of his time with one of history’s greatest monsters.
As a mistake threatens to bring Adam’s world tumbling down around him, the past reaches for Arkady. Everything he’s spent a lifetime building will be threatened, as will everything Adam and his family think they know of the world.
Bold, dark and compelling, The Toymaker is a novel about privilege, fear and the great harm we can do when we are afraid of losing what we hold dear.

My review:

Non fiction writer Liam Pieper delves into the world of fiction with his ambitious novel, The Toymaker. The Toymaker is a book that contrasts life in modern day Australia, Melbourne and the death camps of World War II. Linking these two vastly different settings is one man, Arkady Kulakov, a Holocaust survivor and now the owner of a successful toy manufacturing empire.

When we meet Arkady he is nearing the end of his life. As his health fails, Arkady watches over the heir to his business, his grandson Adam, as he bumbles his way through managing the lucrative family business. Adam is a ruthless manager, bullying to his staff and looking for ways to cost cut the business. He is greedy and a cheating womanizer. Adam is a character who always seems to make his escape at the most pivotal times. Often Adam leaves his wife Tess to pick up the pieces of the business, as well as the health of his grandfather when times are tough. The Toymaker fuses the present with the past, revealing how our life choices and human nature’s fight for survival impacts on the present.

I found The Toymaker a hard novel to rate. Whilst I found that the writing was assured and the concept for the book itself ambitious, I had difficulty with the confronting subject matter. My distaste for the character of Adam came immediately, the opening scenes in which Adam indulges in an affair were hard to stomach. The choices that Adam makes are downright despicable and frustrated me to the core. I did read on and I was able to put my dislike for this character aside. I held much hope that Adam would make a miraculous character transformation or karma would get to him in the end!

Supporting Adam is his long suffering wife Tess, whom I had much more time for. Tess is essentially the backbone for the family toy manufacturing business. She also balances her time as a mother to her son by Adam, Kade. Tess’ devotion to Adam’s grandfather also gives her more redeeming features in my eyes. However, there was something about Tess I couldn’t quite put my finger on, she was not as clearly defined character wise compared to Adam.

The final point of view we witness in The Toymaker is by far the most powerful. Arkady is Adam’s grandfather and a survivor of the Holocaust. The compelling story of how Arkady came to Auschwitz, his horrific time at the death camp and his eventual escape to a new life in Australia, drove this novel forward.  The writing in these sections of the book are confronting but utterly compelling. It is not a story from the Holocaust I will forget in a hurry. Pieper also chooses this section to deliver an artistic twist to the story, which was entirely unexpected on my behalf. It turned the novel completely on its head. The nature of this clever narrative twist enabled me to dig deep into my perceptions of survival, human nature and morality. This is a hard task for the writer and the reader, but Pieper manages to pull this off with ease.

The Toymaker is a book that pushes the moral boundaries and it will make the reader question their views on the will to survive. At times bleak, utterly heartbreaking and reflective, I would recommend this novel if you have an interest in history, the Holocaust and split narrative style novels.

The Toymaker by Liam Pieper was published in June 2016 by Penguin Books Australia.

 

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