The Toymaker-Pieper   Leave a comment

I was attracted to this novel, due to the Holocaust connection. My husband is a Holocaust specialist, and I enjoy reading well researched historical fiction. I thought this could be interesting, particularly as it was sponsored by a Polish Charity.

The novel tells 2 simultaneous stories, that of Adam, the CEO of a Toy factory, based in Australia, and that of his grandfather, Arkady, and his experiences in the concentration camp, Auschwitz.

Whenever Adam introduces a new member of staff, a new idea to his staff, or advertises his company, he uses the experiences of his grandfather; his reputation as a good, kind person despite the horror he experienced, as the origin and driving force of the company.

Adam himself, is a middle aged man in crisis. He is cheating on his wife, misusing company funds, and has lost hold of his control on the company. As Arkady’s health declines, Adam’s behaviour becomes more erratic, driving his wife to consider divorce.

He is in Asia: desperately trying to raise funds to pay off a blackmailer, inadvertently threatening the future of the entire company, when his grandfather dies. Once home, he causes a scene at the funeral. Arkady was his rock, and without him, Adam feels he is completely adrift.

At the end of the novel, Adam has had a revelation, and still guided by Arkady, he believes, he relaunches the company, still using the reputation of his grandfather.

The shock in the novel comes with the grandfather’s story. He arrives at Auschwitz and moved to the Sonder Command. From there, he is taken to aid one of Mengele’s doctors. Arkardy is used to reassure Mengele’s reluctant child patients, and walk them into the lab. He steals some scalpels to carve dolls for some of the little girls. These become the original dolls used for the company later.

The details of Auschwitz are accurate in detail, but deliberately seem to use as many sensational details as possible. They talk of the Sonder Commandos rebellion, of the experiments on the twins and some of the other tests on adults: severe cold, and simulating the effects of sudden decompression from great heights. I did feel that these gory details seemed sensationalist, as if everyday life in the camps was not bad enough!

The twist in the tale, is that the doctor, not the prisoner, is Adam’s grandfather. When the Russians get close, the doctor kills the prisoner, and assumes his identity. The story follows his experiences following the war, getting to Australia and beginning the company. This section is very brief, I would have appreciated more detail at this point. It felt that was being brushed over, but these details could have been important.

There is really no character development of the doctor character after the end of the war. There is very little previously, which allows the twist to work well, but the irony of the truth of the grandfathers character is left as purely his deeds which are used to condemn him, something which is not even developed in the future section.

When Arkardy is declining in health, he regresses and begins to hoard food. This would be believable if he had been a prisoner, but as a Nazi in disguise, it is less believable. There are no references post war of his suffering considerable hunger, which if he had lived in the resettlement camps, would have become relevant, but again this is not developed.

I dont dispute the assuming of names, as it did happen, however usually some time after Auschwitz fell. I find it difficult to believe he could be taken as a prisoner when would not have been skeletally thin.

There is a move in Poland now to move away from any associated guilt for Poles, regarding the camps and collaborating. I wondered if this novel is symptomatic of this muddying of and retelling of the war years.

I was left with one impression, a sense of mockery, that Adam, proclaiming his grandfather’s integrity despite his sufferings, is a fool. He certainly can be seen as such, but the relationship of his wife with Arkady, is a serious relationship. Yet, finally she is conned too. The Nazi is successful in hoodwinking everyone. The questions hang- is the idea of anyone surviving the camps and living with integrity imposdible? Do we overdo the compassion we pour out over the prisoners’s sufferings? But, principally, why did the author deliberately shatter the image of the strong survivor, so dramatically?

I cannot see this becoming recognised as a valuable comment of the Holocaust.

On the positive side, i acknowledge this may be purely a piece of light fiction, aiming more at challenging the modern problem of entitlement and creating a dark mood. The novel does consider the long term effects of fear and anxiety, and the power of secrets. However, i am still left unsatisfied. So many secrets are left and not uncovered. The truth is never exposed, i found that deeply unsatisfied. What is it then that defines us? Surely a novel would seek to question deeper than our surface actions, yet this appears to be what the author settles for. Perhaps it is a comment on the entirely surface life many people are happy to live in present society.

Thumbs down! generally left wanting more.


Posted July 7, 2017 by dianne7 in Uncategorized

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