Title: The Things We Cannot Say
Author: Kelly Rimmer
Published: February 26th 2019
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical/Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
A searing page-turner of family secrets and the legacy of war by the Top 10 bestselling Australian author of BEFORE I LET YOU GO
2019 Life changed beyond recognition for Alice when her son, Eddie, was born with autism spectrum disorder. She must do everything to support him, but at what cost to her family? When her cherished grandmother is hospitalised, a hidden box of mementoes reveals a tattered photo of a young man, a tiny leather shoe and a letter. Her grandmother begs Alice to return to Poland to see what became of those she held dearest.
WWII Alina and Tomasz are childhood sweethearts. The night before he leaves for college, Tomasz proposes marriage. But when their village falls to the Nazis, Alina doesn’t know if Tomasz is alive or dead.
2019 In Poland, separated from her family, Alice begins to uncover the story her grandmother is so desperate to tell, and discovers a love that bloomed in the winter of 1942. As a painful family history comes to light, will the struggles of the past and present finally reach a heartbreaking resolution?
Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Things We Cannot Say unearths a tragic love story and a family secret whose far-reaching effects will alter lives forever.
Over a decade ago, Kelly Rimmer, the author of The Things We Cannot Say, started thinking about a novel set in occupied Poland about a young couple, along with a modern day woman grappling with the challenges of everyday family life. After a period of 18 months of continued writing, Kelly Rimmer has published her latest book. The Things We Cannot Say is a double timeline narrative, it is set both in the present day and in WWII Poland. It follows the lives of two women from the same family, joined together not only by blood, but by a sense of devotion to unlock a decades old secret that must be laid to rest.
Alice is the present day protagonist of Kelly Rimmer’s latest novel, The Things We Cannot Say. Alice is a woman with a world on her shoulders. Her seven year old son Eddie, is a challenging child, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Eddie struggles to understand the world around him and the world struggles to understand Eddie. It is a frustrating bind. Further challenges come Alice’s way when her much loved grandmother becomes ill and is placed under care in hospital. While Alice and her family try to spend their last treasured moments with their dear Babcia, a photograph, a letter and a relic from the past begs for attention. It sends Alice on a trip to Poland, in search of the truth to her grandmother’s previously hidden past. In World War II Poland, a young couple, Alina and Tomasz, are deeply in love but their relationship faces its biggest test ever, the threat of war and the presence of the Nazis has a devastating impact. As Alice in 2019 races against the clock to unlock her grandmother’s secret story from the past, Alice is confronted by her own stark reality. The Things We Cannot Say reaches a final and breathtaking conclusion, with both shocking and hopeful results.
Kelly Rimmer is a storyteller with direction and purpose, she wanted to write a novel that looked at her maternal grandparent’s life living as a Polish couple affected by war. She knew that their journey to begin a new and safe life was not an easy one, by any means. So, Kelly Rimmer set about composing a story about the tenuous paths they took in search of an improved life. Most importantly, Kelly Rimmer wanted to ensure that the stories of the life her grandparents endured would not simply die with them. Books such as The Things We Cannot Say, work to fill this void, so that these heroic everyday people will not be eroded from our minds.
In approaching The Things We Cannot Say, Kelly Rimmer has ventured into new territory, composing a historical fiction and a dual timeline narrative. Rimmer is a bestselling and highly regarded contemporary fiction novelist. She is no novice at tackling difficult issues, often those grey areas in our modern day lives. In the case of The Things We Cannot Say, she takes a strong glimpse into the world of living with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I could sympathise with Alice, the mother of the child with ASD, at all points. I know as both a teacher of children this age and as a mother of a child of a similar age to Eddie, parenting a seven year old has incredible highs and lows. Adding a child with learning difficulties and communication issues is even harder. Rimmer highlights Alice’s family life with a tone of insight, respect and understanding. What I loved most about this contemporary narrative thread was the weight it held in the overall proceedings of the book and it may not be as obvious as first, but the links are integral.
The past storyline sees us step into the shoes of Alina. I genuinely loved Alina’s story, it is one that will stay with me for some time to come. Kelly Rimmer takes her time to outline her historical period setting and she successfully conveys the social consciousness of the citizens of occupied Poland in WW II. The extent of the research Kelly Rimmer has conducted is abundantly clear, it is the attention to the finite details that shows just how dedicated Kelly Rimmer is to the presentation of her historical background. We witness the fear, the threats, the uncertainty, the measures taken to prevent food shortages from occurring and the persecution faced by the Polish Jews. Underneath this melancholy are whispers of hope. This comes in the form of Alina’s sweet love for her Tomasz. The everyday sacrifices made by the Polish people, the underground resistance and the brave sacrifices made by many to ensure the survival of others.
With two very separate and well composed threads, it may seem uncertain where the two timelines will converge. Things seemed to click into place for me once Alice made her way to Poland. This was an enlightening path, on so many levels. However, I did have complete faith in Kelly Rimmer’s writing and knew she would be able to pull off a spectacular crescendo of a conclusion, and she did. The final few chapters were incredibly gripping, as one life reaches its end and a devoted grandchild races against the hands of time to bring closure to her beloved grandmother.
The Things We Cannot Say is a book I would have loved to have read in one or two close sittings, unfortunately time constraints meant that I had to stretch this one across the working week. It is without a doubt a top shelf read and one to cherish. The title came across as very apt to me, that there are moments in our lives when there are things we cannot say, for valid reasons. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, years and even decades in the case of this novel to finally reveal these things, but it does not mean it loses its value.
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of The Things We Cannot Say, Kelly Rimmer, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Things We Cannot Say is book #35 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge