Krakow, 1939, Karolina, a doll, is brought to life. Now in the world of the humans, she finds herself in the company of the dollmaker who created her. As the Nazi occupation of Poland begins, the two strike up an unusual friendship. Soon a dark shadow is cast over the city, as the once strong Jewish population is singled out. Can the dollmaker and Karolina use their magic to save their Jewish friends?
This feels like a very personal book, one which has been created as a result of a strong personal experience. Read the acknowledgments and you will learn that this is indeed the case. So struck with what she saw in Auschwitz, Romero found herself, almost inadvertently, basing her story around the stories she learnt while visiting Poland. It’s no surprise therefore that you will find layer upon layer on emotion in the book.
There are countless books about the holocaust and the fate of the Jewish population in Poland. The most obvious, when considering children’s literature, is The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. Despite this, The Dollmaker of Krakow manages to strike a different tone. A tone which sets it apart from other books on the subject. It weaves the historical facts with Polish folklore and with magic.
As you would expect, there are dark moments in this book. You cannot write about the occupation and the holocaust without touching on some major issues such as prejudice and death. However, Romero has used a couple of techniques which counter balance this. Firstly, the book focuses, on the whole, on friendship and hope. This, along with the strong sense of magic, lightens the mood.
Secondly, there is a lot left unsaid. The horrors of Auswchitz are not described for example. This leaves a book which works on two distinct levels. For those mature readers, with a knowledge of the occupation, will piece together the sub-text and appreciate the full story. A young reader, or one unfamiliar with the historical context, is given enough to grasp the situation at a basic level.
This book is beautifully written and all credit should go to R. M. Romero for this. The balance between the two narrative strands is well-balanced. The first is the main story which sees Karolina in the human world in Krakow. The second is her story in the Land of the Dolls, before she is brought to life. This sub-plot provides an echo to the main narrative and Karolina uses her experiences in her previous life to shape her actions in the human world.
This is not an easy read. Nor is it a fast-paced thriller. Instead it is a book that captures the mood of the time superbly and draws the reader in. You are shown the dark side of human nature and asked to reflect on what is happening. For children, it will open their eyes to what happened within their grandparent’s lifetimes and will raise many questions. It is for mature readers, who are ready to open their eyes and question the human nature and motives.
Age Recommendation: 10+
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 978 1406375633