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Karolina's Twins


Karolina's Twins

Countless books have been written about the Holocaust, examining the tragedy from every angle and reminding readers that it is imperative to never forget the catastrophic devastation. That is not to say that new books cannot bring fresh and compelling perspectives or offer us new insights. With KAROLINA’S TWINS, the latest novel from Ronald H. Balson, no stranger to Holocaust-themed literature, we are given another tale of survival and its emotional toll.

Attorney Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart became a team, and a couple, while working on a complicated case for Holocaust survivor Ben Solomon. Now a friend of Ben’s, also a survivor, named Lena Woodward has come to the pair hoping to enlist them in a search for twin girls she last saw 70 years ago in Poland. While Liam is happy to take on the case, at first Catherine’s involvement is not clear. All too soon, though, Lena’s son Arthur begins to threaten to have his mother declared mentally incompetent, and Catherine’s skills are much needed. Arthur says his concern is that his mother is chasing a fantasy and that there is no proof that Karolina or her twin daughters ever existed. Lena insists they did and that she made a promise to her friend to find them. Catherine and Liam worry that Arthur is more concerned about his mother’s sizable estate than her well-being. So, as Liam starts tracking down the twins and Catherine does her best to protect Lena from Arthur’s legal maneuverings, Lena begins to tell Catherine her life story.

"KAROLINA’S TWINS is a worthwhile read, and one that continues the important tradition of trying to understand the varied experiences of the Holocaust as well as its lingering effects."

Lena Scheinman was born in Chrzanów, Poland, near the Czech border, in 1924. Her father, known locally as The Captain, was a much respected war hero and her family lived a comfortable life. When she became best friends with the charismatic and beautiful Karolina Neuman, her life got even better. Because the Neuman house was dysfunctional, Karolina became like another member of Lena’s family. That is until December of 1938 when it became apparent that the Nazis were on their way to Poland and the Jews were in grave danger. The details Balson shares about life in Poland during the Holocaust are well recorded, but in Lena’s telling they remain poignant and terrifying. Her family is taken and murdered, and she loses touch with Karolina and many of the others she loves. She suffers from hunger, cold and disease in the ghetto, even as she experiences occasional kindnesses.

When Lena is reunited with her friend, they are both slaving in a German textile factory, finding ways to endure the pain and hardships. Together, survival becomes physically and emotionally easier. However, when Karolina finds out she is pregnant by a young German soldier, the chances of survival begin to shrink. When Karolina and Lena, along with a third close friend, are put on the train to Auschwitz, they realize there is little hope the babies would survive. They make a rash and risky decision that they pray will save the babies and that Lena, all these decades later, still feels both guilty and hopeful about. Liam and Catherine are drawn into Lena’s amazing tale, but they are not without their doubts. Was Lena really working for the underground movement delivering messages? How could she have kept these secrets for so long? Is she delusional or senile? Did Karolina’s twins ever even exist? And, if they did, how can they be found across so much time and space?

Lena’s story is told, mostly to Catherine, chapter by chapter, and KAROLINA’S TWINS breaks it up with courtroom drama and Liam’s investigation. Lena’s memories and experiences form the bulk of the novel and are nicely balanced by the details of the legal proceedings in which Catherine is involved. Balson’s narrative is straightforward and clean, even when examining the most terrible of events. Despite the lack of emotionalism, the book is dramatic and riveting, with the big reveals all quite carefully doled out. KAROLINA’S TWINS is a worthwhile read, and one that continues the important tradition of trying to understand the varied experiences of the Holocaust as well as its lingering effects.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 9, 2016

Karolina's Twins
by Ronald H. Balson

  • Publication Date: August 15, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250089042
  • ISBN-13: 9781250089045