A living, speaking doll; magical and folkloric elements; and Nazi terror meld in this novel set in World War II Krakow, Poland.
Karolina is blown by a magical wind from the war-torn Land of the Dolls into the shop and life of Cyryl, the white Dollmaker of Krakow, a lonely, skilled craftsman with magical abilities. Astounded to encounter the enchanting wooden creature, he repairs her and learns of her travails: her homeland, like his, has been ravaged by war and taken over by dictatorial rats who’ve conquered her country and savaged the population. They become steadfast comrades and soon befriend Jewish neighbors, a violinist and his daughter who are increasingly threatened by the worsening Nazi menace. With the situation in Krakow worsening, the Dollmaker and Karolina become ever more desperate. Inspired by Karolina’s ingenious idea, Cyryl magically effects an astonishing transformation of Krakow’s children, enabling them to be smuggled out of the ghetto. It’s an odd tale. Readers expecting the fantastic and magical elements to soften the terrifying depictions of Nazi brutality will be disillusioned: horrors are described, and death pervades the narrative. While Karolina and the non-Nazi human protagonists are sympathetic, the disparate threads don’t jell. Worse, combining a very realistic war story with a fairy-tale one may, unfortunately, suggest to some readers that the nonfiction component isn’t real either.
One could wish all war stories were genuine fantasies. (Fantasy. 9-12)