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The Things We Cannot Say

The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer

25/60 | Started 05.15.23 • Finished 05.22.23 | 4 stars

Historical fiction doesn't usually float my boat - I'm not a big fan of storylines that jump back and forth through time, and it's a genre that tends that way - but this WWII novel was engrossing. The two main characters are 1940s Alina and present day Alice, her granddaughter. Having survived the war, Alina is now on her death bed. Alice struggles through her day-to-day life as a mother of both an autism spectrum son and a gifted daughter.

It’s a beautiful and unfortunately rare thing to have someone understand my situation instead of judging it.

The story begins in pre-war Poland, where Alina's family runs a small farm. Always criticized as being soft, lazy, and delicate, Alina is often sheltered from work and from real life. Her one passion in life is Tomasz, but he leaves for college early in the book. The German invasion happens quickly, and life for Alina and her family changes drastically. Due to the introduction of Alina's granddaughter Alice, it's clear that Alina survives the war, but under what circumstances?

To destabilize a group of people is not at all difficult, not if you are willing to be cruel enough. You simply knock out the foundations, and a natural consequence is that the rest begins to tumble.

The present day story finds Alice in Florida, overwhelmed with life and still feeling disappointment from her extremely successful mother. Her grandmother has had a stroke that is affecting her language center, but she is clearly trying to communicate something urgent to Alice. Through a special connection with Alice's autistic son Eddie, Alina is able to begin relaying her requests. Everything points to her upbringing in Poland but her family just can't make sense of it. Alice is faced with a choice that could disrupt her entire life.

I told myself that even deafening silence was preferable to noise if the noise always ended in grief.

A captivating story about love, family, and resilience, Rimmer's novel was quite a read. She did a great job weaving together the past and present into one cohesive narrative. I appreciated her treatment of the highs and lows of parenting an autism spectrum child, as well as the effects it can have on an entire family. She also wrote with some profoundness about suffering and grief. Recommend for all lovers of historical fiction, and even for those who aren't sure about the genre!

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