By: Ronald H. Balson
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Publication Date: 9/6/2016
My Rating: 4 Stars In the tradition of The Nightingale, Sarah's Key, and Lilac Girls, comes a saga inspired by true events of a Holocaust survivor’s quest to return to Poland and fulfill a promise, from Ronald H. Balson, author of the international bestseller Once We Were Brothers. She made a promise in desperation. Now it's time to keep it. Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.
Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?
Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.
Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond.
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Ronald H. Balson delivers his third book in his riveting series, KAROLINA’S TWINS (Liam and Catherine #3) after the riveting Saving Sophie (2015) --catching up with Liam Taggart and his attorney wife, Catherine—for another complex and emotional case.
As the book opens, Chicago private eye, Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart-Taggart are contacted by Lena Woodward, a wealthy widow in her late eighties. Lena wants to find the twin daughters of her friend Karolina, who perished during the Holocaust. She had made a promise to a very special person and she intended to keep it.
She was born Lena Scheinman in the town of Chrzanow, Poland in 1924. She had come from a referral from Ben, which they were able to help. The children are Karolina’s twins. Her dearest friend. The woman who saved her life, but in the end, she could not save hers.
It was during World War II in Poland some seventy years ago. A burden she has carried. She had lost her friend, and cancer had taken her husband. Her two dearest friends. After their death, Lena had one purpose in life. She wants to use her money to fulfill her promise. Her promise to Karolina. She has to find the girls.
While Lena is sharing her story with Catherine, we learn about Lena’s life story which details surviving Nazi occupied Poland before, during and after WWII. There were a lot of ifs and a lot of unknowns.
She did not want to meet up with the Germans who had burst into her house and was worried about her family. She had been worried about Karolina. She had not seen or heard from her since the Germans came for her family. Her house was her safe harbor. Her father was missing, and her mother as good as missing. Karolina’s mental state was fragile and she was worried.
She begins to recount a tale, going back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Is there a hidden story?
In the present, Catherine and Liam receive a phone call from Arthur, Lena’s son and warns them to stay away from his mother. He says she is nuts and there are no children. He says she is a senile, delusional old woman, wasting her money.
Catherine and Liam come to her defense stating she is not mentally impaired, and her narrative is well structured, organized, and details. Arthur seems to be more concerned with his mom’s money than her mental condition. And his sizable inheritance.
Had they found one another at last in 1941, to be separated again? The Natzis’ principle killing machine was attrition. Death by starvation, malnutrition, parasites, disease, and lack of medical care took dozens and in the winter they froze to death. From unsanitary living conditions, they areas were surrounded by disease and pestilence. A constant battle. So many people were forced to live in small areas, not just Jews from Chranow, but refugees from other towns.
From black markets and food becoming scarcer. The Nazis would shoot anyone found engaging in black market commerce. They confiscated their valuables. There were beatings. A horrible life though 1941. They did not know what was in store for them.
Karolina was pretty, and she knew how to flirt. She was a great listener and conversationalist. She had a protector. Giving food to Jews was strictly prohibited. Germans were forbidden from having relations with the Jews. Throughout Poland, young women were seized off the streets and forced to be prostitutes or sex slaves.
The winters were brutal. Karolina sacrificed for her. Her goodness and selflessness warmed her soul and because of her she survived. She had to repay her. The Nazis cruelty was beyond comprehension.
Back and forth from Lena’s story -past to present, and Arthur’s allegation his mom is delusional. They need proof of the children to develop a factual defense. Arthur has a petition. This is where the story turns to a strong legal/historical fiction, a place where the author has proved he can handle both sides like a pro!
With surprises, twists and turns a compelling tale which grabs you from the first page to the last- a journey of survival and a connection to a dark past and the secrets of two twin girls. A moving tale of the strong bonds of friendship and motherhood.
KAROLINA’S TWINS is a well-written work of fiction; however, as the author notes, it was a story inspired by a woman of extraordinary courage, determination and wisdom.
With a mix of courtroom drama (well-drawn), an infusion of fact and fiction, and well-researched historical events, and accounts of courageous survivors. As I have mentioned previously, attorneys make great authors (my favorites).
I enjoyed catching up with Catherine and Liam and their exciting personal news. Highly recommend all the books in the series!
Fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls, and Peter Golden's Wherever There is Light, will delight. Looking forward to the next book - an author to follow.
Discussion Questions by the Author
“Readers who crave more books like Balson’s Once We Were Brothers and Kristin Hannah’s bestselling The Nightingale will be enthralled by Karolina’s Twins.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“A heartbreaking tale of a mother’s love, friendship, and family in the face of increasingly brutal conditions and the constant threat of imminent death in Nazi-occupied Poland…reminiscent of the author’s first novel Once We Were Brothers…compelling.” ―Library Journal
“The third in Balson’s promising series about a husband-and-wife investigation team specializing in Holocaust cases. [Lena Woodward’s] survivor account becomes the main source of suspense, since she is reluctant to reveal the full horror of what she experienced until the end…and [it] does not disappoint.” ―Kirkus
"Balson kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what the next chapter would reveal. He did an excellent job in staying true to the historical facts of those years of the Holocaust and what Lena, the main character and survivor, had to go through. Balson keeps the suspense so riveting that it was difficult to put the book down. I would say most will read it in one night sitting―kudos to Ronald Balson." ―Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff, Director of the University of Miami Holocaust Teacher Institute
“Secrets, friendships, survival, and the Holocaust are woven together in Ronald H. Balson’s haunting Karolina's Twins.” ―Family Circle
About the Author
RONALD H. BALSON is a Chicago trial attorney, an educator, and writer. His practice has taken him to several international venues including Poland, which served as the inspiration for his first best selling novel, Once We Were Brothers. A love of history, the Middle East, and traveling inspired his second novel, Saving Sophie. He returns to Poland for his upcoming novel, Karolina's Twins, due out September 2016.
Balson was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction in 2014 and a finalist for the Premio Bancarella Italian Literature Award in 2014. He was an honoree at the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award dinner. Read More