Saying Goodbye To Warsaw

In Book Reviews on October 6, 2013 at 6:00 am
Saying Goodbye to Warsaw

Published by Michael Cargill 2013

*Please note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Nutshell blurb: It’s 1940 and Abigail Nussbaum, along with her family and many other Jews, are evicted from their homes and moved to a ghetto in Warsaw. This is the story of their lives from that point.

First of all, I would like to thank Michael Cargill for sending me a copy of his book. Please check out his blog and Goodreads pages for more information about him and his books.

As per my usual style, I’m going to jump right in and tell you the things that I had problems with first so that we can get those out of the way.

There were a few things that jarred me out of my immersion of the story. I am very analytical when I read and I don’t like it when I come across a passage that makes me have to think about why it doesn’t sound right. I don’t feel that I should have to think about the phraseology when I’m neck deep in a story.

My first problem was that this family is a Polish family but as I read the dialogue, I thought that they sound distinctly English. It took me a while to work out how to explain that, but I figured out that it’s because there are contractions that only native English speakers would use such as “that’d” and also the sentences don’t always start at the beginning. For example, “Anything exciting happen while we were out?” rather than “Has anything exciting happened while we were out?”. It seems like a nit-picky thing, but I think that it’s very important as there were several times when it pulled me out of the story. I don’t think that it’s necessary to be formal with language and it’s ok to use contractions, but I think that it’s important to pick the appropriate ones.

And just so you know, I’m struggling with this in my own writing and that is probably why I picked up on it so quickly.

The other problem that I had was that Abigail’s brother seemed to keep doing things that scared her, even though he loved her to pieces and would never hurt her. This seemed to be a device used to increase the suspense of the situation, but it happened repeatedly. There was also an overuse of the term ‘German trick’ as everyone was paranoid that anything good that happened was a German trick. While I can appreciate the need to build suspense, I found that these two things were bit overused.

On to the good things.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that the most important aspect of a story to me is characterisation. It is of paramount importance. I will put down a book the instant that I find out that the characters aren’t realistic or if they’re superficial. The characters in this story were spot on. They were well thought out and and felt as though they could be people that you know.Β It was the relationships between the protagonists that I liked the most.

Abigail is such a sweet little girl, but not overly sweet. She’s resourceful even while maintaining a childlike innocence. She was very believable and I could relate to her as I’ve always been a daydreamer living in my own little world. Leo was a fantastic big brother who loved and wanted to protect his family. I could also relate to him as he was angry about the way people were being treated and he was completely helpless to stop it.

The points of view were interesting as Mr. Cargill frequently change the pov throughout the chapter. At first, I wasn’t sure whether or not I liked it, but as I read further I found that it made perfect sense and worked quite well. It was nice to know what the other characters were thinking and added to their believability.

I always hesitate before reading books about the Jews during this time period because I never know what I’m in for. Which is funny and a bit ridiculous because I love horror, zombies and anything of an apocalyptic nature. But unlike those genres, this stuff really happened and it’s more difficult to read because it could have actually happened to someone. Sometimes that’s a bit hard for me to read. It sounds a bit silly, I know.

I was pleased to read that the subject was handled extremely well and without gratuitous violence. Any bloody moments in the story served to move it forward and paint a picture of a specific time in the lives of these people.

Overall, I thought that this was a really sweet and touching story.

  1. Just to clarify: were they speaking Polish with English contractions or were they speaking English?

      • Haha, yes, I figured as much. I meant, are they ‘speaking’ polish which is automatically translated because the narrator is polish and is narrating in polish, which comes across as English because he speaks it as we speak English and the book is in English? I asked this because if he speaks Polish as we speak English, and we are reading a translation of his native language, wouldn’t it follow that he uses contractions and truncated sentences? It is of course possible that he is Polish and telling his story in English and thus speaks at a lesser level than you or I speak English.

      • The author is English so it’s not a translation. The way the dialogue is phrased sounds like that of a family living in modern day Britain. I think that this is a tricky thing to do because it’s natural for the way we speak to leak into our writing. But when I read a book that takes place in Poland during WW2 and the kids are calling their mother ‘mum’, it makes me stop and think “what?”. My whole point about it is that if I have to stop reading your book to ponder a passage, I’m no longer reading your book. I can’t imagine that’s something that an author would want.

        Also, I don’t have a problem with contractions in historical novels, but I feel that they should be used sparingly and judiciously. There are some that I feel are quite modern (such as my example of “that’d”) that seem out of place in a novel of this type.

        I want to be pulled into a story completely to the point where I don’t want to stop reading for any reason at all. So, while it’s not a cardinal sin, it’s jarring and there were several times when my immersion was broken.

  2. Of the few reviews I’ve had of this book so far, this is probably one of the more interesting ones and what you say about the phraseology actually makes sense. I was vaguely aware that I was probably taking liberties with the language and how the characters spoke to each other. For instance there’s that part where two boys say some words to Abigail that rhyme with ‘Jew’, which wouldn’t work if it was translated to Polish.

    You’re also the second person to mention the changing of the POV between the characters, and it’s something that has been said about one of my other books as well. It’s an interesting point, mainly because it’s not something that I’ve consciously done! If anyone out there is able to invent a device that allows me to temporarily ‘forget’ my own work so I can read it from a readers point of view, I’ll be first in line when the shops open.

    The fact that a reviewer who places heavy importance on the characters liked my characters is actually a big compliment.

    By the way, you’ve been a small source of paranoia for me over the last day or so…! I do a lot of Goodreads stalking so I noticed that this book had come off of your Currently Reading shelf. This happened at around about the same time that I read your Under the Dome review where you pointed out that you had stopped reading an unspecified book because you didn’t like it. It was only when I took a closer look at the date that you posted the review that my heart stopped pounding.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled on for longer than I intended here. Thanks for the review and I’m glad that you enjoyed it!

    PS – Being called Mr Cargill makes me feel really important.

    • Sorry to worry you! It came off my ‘currently reading’ because I had finished it. πŸ™‚ I’m surprised that Goodreads doesn’t show that it’s moved to my ‘read’ shelf.

      I think that the pov change-up worked really well in this case. (I just wanted to be clear that I liked it). It’s just the dialogue that you should be aware of in the future. I think it’s hard to switch off the writer part of you when you’re reading over your work. (And by “you” I mean “one”.) I have a difficult time with it which is why I think that I noticed it so much. When we read over our work, our minds automatically fill in the blanks so I find it useful to have someone who can critique my work and not be afraid to tell me where I’m going wrong. Luckily, I’m married to that person, so that makes it even better.

      Thanks again for the book!

Have something to say? Please get in touch!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: