Hamilton’s debut historical novel tells of the horrific World War II experiences of a young Polish Catholic woman.
During World War II, 1.7 million Poles were forced into slave labor by the Nazis; nearly half were women. In this novel, Hamilton delves into her own family history and other real-life survivor accounts to tell the story of the fictional Victoria Darski, a 19-year-old woman who’s about to set off to the University of Warsaw when the Germans invade Poland in 1939. After Nazis murder her 14-year-old sister, Elizabeth, Victoria and her mother are forced to work in a Nazi sewing factory. The young woman and her friend Sylvia are captured by the Nazis, and Victoria ends up working for the Tod family in Germany, who own a bakery. She forms a friendship with the owners’ daughter, Etta, a deaf poster artist, and the pair team up to undertake increasingly risky resistance actions, including smuggling bread into a nearby camps where Victoria’s Polish friends are being held. Hamilton’s copious research is apparent throughout this novel, but her inclusion of ample historical facts never overwhelms the main story, which focuses on Victoria’s emotional journey from bystander to decisive activist. Although the cruel Tod parents feel somewhat underdeveloped, other supporting characters, such as Etta’s brother, an SS captain, emerge as complex and distinct individuals. Although Victoria’s survival is never in doubt, the novel doesn’t flinch when it comes to detailing horrific Nazi atrocities.
A searing reminder of the many lesser-known World War II stories that still need to be told.(author’s note, afterword, bibliography, reading group questions)