#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · historical fiction · new release · World War II

New Release Book Review: Secrets My Father Kept by Rachel Givney

Title: Secrets My Father Kept

Author: Rachel Givney

Published: June 1st 2021

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 432

Genres: Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 5 stars

Set in Poland on the eve of the Second World War, Secrets My Father Kept is the gripping story of a young woman determined to uncover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance and the dark secret from her father’s past.

Secrets My Father Kept is a captivating novel about love, sacrifice, secrets and resilience, as the clock inexorably ticks down to a devastating world war.

It’s February 1939. As the Führer edges towards an invasion of Poland, total war looms in Europe.

However in Krakow, seventeen-year-old Marie Karska’s primary concern is the unexplained disappearance of her mother fifteen years ago, and her father Dominik’s unbreakable silence on the matter. Even his wife’s name is a secret he guards closely.

Dominik, a well-respected and innovative doctor at the local hospital, has devoted his life to caring for his only daughter. Yet a black fear haunts him – over the questionable act he committed to keep Marie safe. And with German troops now marching to the border, he needs to find her a husband. One who will protect her when he no longer can…

But Marie has already met the man she wants to marry: her childhood friend Ben. She’s determined that his Jewish faith won’t stand in the way of their future together. And nor will her father’s refusal to explain the past stop her from unpicking his darkest secret. . .

Review:

Following on from the success of her first novel Jane in Love which has now secured film rights, Rachel Givney has released her second novel, Secrets My Father Kept. Givney is a writer and filmmaker, who displays great creative flair. This latest release is a bold step away from Jane in Love, exploring war, gender, societal expectations, medicine, religion and family, all within the one absolutely consuming framework.

Secrets My Father Kept is a story of decisions and choices made in a time of uncertainly as the threat of war looms large for the residents of Poland. This story unfurls over two absorbing timelines. We meet Marie, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, who is consumed by the unexplained disappearance of her mother when she was a small child. As Marie struggles in her personal life and career, she is determined to finally find out the truth surrounding her mother’s disappearance. However, the more Marie pushes her father for answers surrounding her mother, the more he pushes her away. We learn that Marie’s father Dominik is a highly regarded doctor, who works tirelessly at the local hospital. While Dominik shows passion for his career in medicine his daughter remains his utmost concern. But Dominik harbours a deep and dark secret related to a heart wrenching choice he made in the past to save his daughter. As talk of the war begins to gain momentum in Poland, Dominik knows he must do all he can again to protect Marie. When Marie declares her love for an old friend Ben, who is of an opposing religion, she must be willing to change her own faith to seal her love. To safeguard her future happiness Marie risks it all for Ben by converting to the Jewish faith. But Marie’s quest to uncover her family’s dark history still remains, can Marie unravel this long-standing family puzzle?

Second World War stories are the best narratives to get completely lost in, but they also represent some of the hardest tales to take on board. Secrets My Father Kept is a masterpiece in my eyes. This novel slowly made its way into my heart and mind, leaving a deep impression on me. In fact, I couldn’t sleep after I turned over the last page of this novel and it continued to linger with me for days after I closed the final page. For me, this is always a clear indication of a powerful and a well written read. I will be endorsing this one to my followers, friends and family – basically anyone who likes a good book!

I loved the basic set up of Secrets My Father Kept. Givney’s second novel is split over a two-part narrative. We are presented with two timeline threads, one set after the Great War, while the other looks at life just prior to the outbreak of the devastating Second World War. After reading an interview with the author of this tale, I discovered that Secrets My Father Kept was a story inspired by Rachael Givney’s own family heritage in Eastern Europe. In fact, the author incorporated a family name into her book via one of the key characters. This ancestral link allows Givney to write passionately and with understanding. It was also interesting to learn that Givney embarked on a number of research trips to help inform Secrets My Father Kept. As a result of the author’s commitment to immersing herself in the locations used in this novel, we are presented with a deeply authentic story. The historical setting of Secrets My Father Kept blew me away. Everything from the landscape, to the intricate details about restrictions on living ensured that I was completely engaged in Secrets My Father Kept.

The characters in Secrets My Father Kept are depicted with clear vision and accuracy. Marie was just fabulous and I admired her determination, stiff resolve, passion and resilience. Likewise, another key female character in the earlier past narrative shows us the true meaning of grit, survival, bravery, sacrifice and endurance. Dominik was quite the enigma, he seemed to keep everyone at arm’s length and his deliberate attempts to conceal areas of his family’s life didn’t always sit well with me, but the big reveal close to the end of the book made up for this! I need to give my thanks and appreciation to the support cast, from love interests, to priests, neighbours and employers. Givney has composed a truly memorable stage set. With plenty of friends and foes, Secrets My Father Kept shows the best and worst areas of humanity.

There are so many different pockets to Secrets My Father Kept, from medicine, scientific endeavour, gender relations, higher education, rising Nazism, religious persuasions, class, the economy, male power and authority. I was shocked at times by the sheer extent of the brutality and evil scorn displayed towards women at this time, especially if they were poor, or in the family way. However, it is important to understand that this did sadly occur and it is vital that we come to appreciate stories such as Secrets My Father Kept as they continue to circulate these experiences.

One last word on the final and whiplash style twist. I was not expecting this plot flip over at all so when it happened, I was lost for words! It was a very creative move that was in tune with the story as a whole. I was a little taken aback when I realised that the nature of this twist was seen in some instances across the book. My apologies if I sound a little vague, as I would hate to ruin this plot twist for other readers.

Secrets My Father Kept is story that I recommend with all my heart –  and it receives a five full star rating from me.

Secrets My Father Kept by Rachel Givney was published on 1st June 2021 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Secrets My Father Kept, Rachel Givney, visit here.

*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Secrets My Father Kept is book #63 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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