All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Survivors by Kate Furnivall

on October 23, 2018

The Survivors 
Kate Furnivall
Simon & Schuster
2018, 431p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Germany, 1945. The Allied Military Government has set up Displaced Persons camps throughout war-ravaged Germany, to house the millions of devastated people throughout Europe who have lost everything. Klara Janowska is one of these. In her thirties, half Polish, half English, born and brought up in Warsaw, she fought for the Polish Resistance, helping to sabotage the Nazi domination of her country. But now the war is over and she has fled Poland with her 8 year-old daughter, Alicja, ahead of the advancing Soviet army, leaving her past behind her.

Or so she thinks.

She and Alicja are detained in Graufeld Camp, among a thousand strangers who have flooded into the protective custody of the British zone in Germany. She is desperate to get to England, her mother’s native country, but she has no identity papers. She needs to escape, at any cost.

This unstable world becomes even more dangerous when Klara recognises someone else in the camp – Oskar Scholz, a high-ranking member of the German Waffen-SS who terrorised Warsaw. Forced together in the confined claustrophobic space, the two of them know terrible secrets about each other’s past that would see them hanged if either told the truth. Both want the other one dead.

But the most displaced element in the camp is the truth. In a series of unexpected twists, the real truths finally emerge and drastically alter the lives of all.

Kate Furnivall is an author I’ve come across a couple of times but just haven’t had the opportunity to try until now. This book opens in Germany in 1945 – the war is over and Germany is being carved up into zones. Millions of people have been displaced and many of those await decisions on their future in camps. They have food to eat and a roof over their heads, which may be an improvement on war situations but their lives remain in constant limbo. So many people to process.

Klara is half-Polish, half-English and she and her young daughter Alicja made it to Graufield Displaced Persons camp. Klara is desperate to get herself and her daughter out, awaiting the authorities to make contact with her English grandmother, which will grant them both passage to that country. When she spots a man from her past at the camp, a former SS officer masquerading as a displaced person, Klara will stop at nothing to keep her daughter safe. She’s fully prepared to kill Oskar Scholz because if she doesn’t, it’s only a matter of time until he kills her and Alicja.

This book was brutal – not just the descriptions of what Klara was subjected to and had to do in the war but also in the time after. It’s a time where she should be safe – the war is ‘over’, she and her daughter are somewhere they can at least not starve, although the camp still holds many threats. Everyone is coming from a time of desperation and people are changed. What they were before the war is long gone and there is only who they have become to survive. Klara has made allies – several of the camp’s children, the woman in charge of the laundry, a man in administration – but times are still dangerous. Klara builds up currency in terms of favours and bartering and she also has a complicated theft racket going on. When she spots a man she knew as Oskar Scholz, a ranking SS officer, she knows that all her skills learned, both as part of the Polish resistance and in the what came after, are going to be needed if she’s going to get her and Alicja away from him alive. It becomes a game of cat and mouse, a battle of wills and determination as Oskar seeks to alienate Klara from those who support her and Klara seeks to protect her daughter first and foremost. Oskar and Klara both know incriminating things about the other and they could both destroy each other’s sanctuary in moments.

Klara is been through some things in the war – she’s been used and abused, had her daughter taken from her and held over her head as leverage to do horrible things. When she and Alicja are finally reunited you can see Klara’s desperation to keep her safe. It just leaps off the page. And Alicja herself is a brave child, her thinking and actions are of a person far older than her ten years. She’s protective of her mother too but also struggling with coming to terms with some of the things her mother may have done during the war. In that way, Alicja is very much still a child, the black and white reality of children, the ‘good and bad’ things and actions being difficult for them to see motivation and self-preservation in doing unspeakable things during an horrific time.

I really enjoyed Klara and Oskar’s dance and Klara’s willingness to do whatever it takes to protect her child this time, after being powerless in her own and Alicja’s lives for so long. Her desperation and determination was very well written and leapt off every single page. Oskar is suitably chilling but I’m nor sure I’m really convinced of the ending. Some of it felt pretty unbelievable and another bit felt a bit unnecessary. Like the author was trying to tie up too many loose ends that probably didn’t really need to be tied up. It’s a small quibble but it felt a bit out of step with the rest of the book, which was so well paced and written.


Book #178 of 2018


3 responses to “Review: The Survivors by Kate Furnivall

  1. I tend to steer clear of books that deal with the subject matter. I don’t know what it is. I can read horror/gory books but my heart just hurts so much reading about the Nazis and the after effects of the war.

  2. It’s interesting to see a book that deals with the aftermath of WWII. There are so many that deal with the Holocaust and it’s so easy to forget about the trauma that continued for years after. I’ll be looking out for this one. Thanks.

  3. Marg says:

    I read a number of Kate Furnivall’s early books and really enjoyed them. I have her last book out from the library at the moment (shocking I know!!)

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