The Things We Cannot Say
by 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. (Synopsis taken from Goodreads)
Review 4/5 ★★★★★
Wow, I loved this novel! I was drawn in from page one and couldn’t read it fast enough. I LOVE when books parallel two stories from different eras, and this book nailed it. What I loved about this book most, though, was the authentic relationships full of hope and determination. Nothing comes easy for these characters, but in the face of all opposition, they strive. They continue. They drive forward, despite their failings, their worries, their fears, their weaknesses. They embody inspiration. You look into their lives and can simultaneously think, wow, that sounds like me, and wow, maybe I could do that, too.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Quite a bit of mild profanity, with one instance of the f-word. This would be the only thing about this book that I did not like.
Alice mentions a “blame game” she and her husband play on who’s to blame genetically for Eddie’s autism, where she mentions her husband’s sperm.
A few references to sex or having sex.
Outside of these few issues, I absolutely loved this novel.
I would like to take a minute to talk about each character.
Alina: Such a naive, immature, childish one, that Alina. How we love her. How we root for her when she rises above. How we laugh at the unreliability of her narration, her immature view on life. The compassion we have for her lofty dreams and aspirations, and how we admire her tenacity to hold onto them in the face of an opposite reality. Alina is in no way a wise counsel, but she is full of unknown courage, and when push comes to shove, she rises. She grows. She stretches, for the good of another. And we love her for it. She was so real.
Alice: Wow. I loved reading about Alice and her relationship with her husband. It is clouded with doubt, punctuated by bitterness and frustration, surrounded by unspoken words, and yet, they fight on—they fight for each other. They fight for their marriage. They fight to understand. Alice is far from perfect, and so is Wade. But what you see here is a picture of two imperfect people putting themselves and their desires aside for the needs of another. This book may not be Christian, but this is the message of Jesus. This is the hope he brings us. Alice, in her imperfection, anger, and unjust frustration at her husband, decides to not give in, but to fight, out of love for Wade. Wade has to do the same. This type of selfless love is what we all long for—these are the characters we long to be—this is the message of my Jesus. In our messiness, He loved us anyway, and He calls us to love each other likewise. Alice and Wade may be one of my favorite couples in fiction, ever. I was inspired by the message of hope and love.
Eddie: I loved that the author decided to narrate in a character with autism and thought she did so well with Eddie. I loved getting a glimpse in his mind. She made him so relatable, so sweet, so…wonderful. And his relationship with Babcia was precious!
Julita: A side character who had yet such a strong arc. And she’s not even on page for very long. I was very impressed!
Tomasz: Oh Tomasz! Another young lover whose immaturity in some areas we can plainly see, yet, who also has profound maturity in other areas. We see his unrelenting love for Alina; we see his conviction, passion, determination. Tomasz was an absolutely incredible character. <Spoiler> I also loved the scene where he shares his past with Alina and how she responds, first inwardly horrified, but then realizing she has to love him anyway. <spoiler> I’m going to say this again: this is the message of Jesus, sprinkled everywhere in this beautifully told novel. In the face of utmost evil, in the face of anger and hurt, we have a choice—to give in to our desires and our passions and do what “feels” best for us–or to stand up, put ourselves aside, and love. This book did such a great job allowing such imperfect characters the ability to make the right choice and the result was a novel that inspired, uplifted, and encouraged.
Saul: Oh how I felt for Saul. What a great man. Saul deserves no critique.
Setting: I’ve recently developed a fascination with Poland (my ancestors are from there), so I loved all the setting we got in this book! Reading about the Nazi occupation wasn’t easy, but it was important, and it was fascinating to read about it from the Polish perspective. Early on in the book, I was chilled by how all the townspeople had heard rumors of Nazis but were convinced it would never come to them. It just reminds me again that we as people are so good at reasoning away what we don’t want to see.
The book moved fast, but not too fast. At first, I found the notion Alice would just up and go to Poland a little far-fetched, but it was drawn out and developed appropriately, so I concede to a job well done. I loved watching how everything tied together. The ending was definitely sappy and some may say overdone, but I thought it was very sweet.
All in all, an inspiring read about very real humans facing very real issues, and their choices to rise above.
FAVORITE QUOTE: (Spoilery!)
Right after Tomasz reveals the terrible part of his past—terrible things he had done—I absolutely love how Alina responds:
“ ‘Eventually, I shifted onto the ground beside him, and wrapped my arms around his waist, then rested my head against his chest. I let my mind conjure images of all he’d told me—even the parts I didn’t want to imagine, because they were a part of Tomasz now, and I wanted to know and understand all of him.’ ” (Emphasis mine)