The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer tells the story of two women. Alina lives in occupied Poland. Newly engaged, her family shelters her from the horrors of the war for as long as they can. But when it comes down to it, does she have the strength it will take to keep herself and her friend alive? Alice lives in present day America. Her Polish grandmother has had a stroke and so cannot communicate properly. But she gets out a message for Alice. Go to Poland. Tomasz. On her journey, Alice discovers the amazing lengths Alina went to in order to survive, simply based on all the things she couldn’t say.
I’ve said this before with war books. This is a book that needed to be written. I love that Rimmer used her family’s experience as a starting point for Alina’s story. But it wasn’t just a war story. Alice’s struggles are of a different sort, but still an important one to tell. With her son on the artistic spectrum, Alice has her own way of living that has no flexibility, but she learns what the human mind is able to do when given the opportunity. That’s a huge understatement and of course in no way meant to lessen the challenges that diagnosis can bring. But I think Alice handles it with grace.
At first I was a bit annoyed with Alina’s character. She seemed weak, and complained all the time about being treated as a child. But of course, there was so much strength in her. I think, after all, it was important to show her as a normal girl and not an extraordinary one. The war affected everyone, and the thing is that not everyone became a hero or had a heroic arc. Alina did, but in a much different way.
The description of how they wouldn’t talk about the war afterwards, not even speaking Polish at home is very much the story of my own grandparents. And I think the story in general. I understand why, but there are so many stories lost to time because of it. These are stories the younger generations need to hear. I hope there are enough. This is one of them, at least.
Overal, this is a wonderful story of survival, love, and familial sacrifice. It’s well worth the read, keeping in mind things may not be as it seems. And please remember to keep telling these stories. And keep reading them.