"Kelly Rimmer has done it again..."
Reviewed by Svetlana Libenson
Posted September 5, 2019
Women's Fiction Historical | Women's Fiction Time Slip
During 1942, Alina Dziak, a young woman, has recently married the love of her love, Tomasz Slaski, or so others believe. Although her wedding day is not how she thought it would be, she is determined to make a new life with this stranger in America, even if her heart will pine for her missing love.
In the present day, Alina's granddaughter Alice has her hands full with a precocious young daughter and her autistic son. Alice's grandmother, Babcia, Alina Slaski, has recently been admitted to the hospital, and while she's there awaiting news and trying to help her grandmother, Alice begins to learn of the many secrets that Babcia has kept from her family, and its also there that she will conclude and finalize the ending that has been missing from Babcia's life.
I was lucky enough that I had a chance to read BEFORE I LET YOU GO by Kelly Rimmer, a tale of two sisters and one baby that I'll never, and I felt even luckier reading THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY by Kelly Rimmer, a WWII novel. As a testament to her writing, I am not sure I will ever be able to pick up another WWII novel without remembering the impact that THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY have had on me.
THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY is unlike other WWII novels that I have experienced because Kelly Rimmer knows the right way to dig deeply into the human heart and leave impressions deep inside. This is a gut-wrenching tale and some images within the pages, especially as a mother, are embedded deeply into my heart.
Words such as heartbreaking and tearful don't really do justice to Kelly Rimmer's writing because when she writes stories they are of the highest quality possible and will stay long after the last page is turned.
If you are looking for a trip to WWII that is more deeper and meaningful, then THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY by Kelly Rimmer should be a perfect read and to ponder long after the cover is closed.
In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just
beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls
a young woman speaks her wedding vows. Itâ€™s a decision that
will alter her destinyâ€¦and itâ€™s a lie that will remain
buried until the next century.
Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would
marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged,
Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the
Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no
real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns
from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little
little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation
takes hold, and Alinaâ€™s tiny rural village, its families,
are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their
lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where
used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now
she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting
for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the
soldiers who patrol her parentsâ€™ farm. But for now, even
deafening silence is preferable to grief.
Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace
of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and
wrought narrative that weaves together two womenâ€™s stories
into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor.
The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder
of the devastation when truth is silencedâ€¦and how it can
take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust
The priest presiding over my wedding was half-starved,
half-frozen and wearing rags but he was resourceful; heâ€™d
blessed a chunk of moldy bread from breakfast to serve as a
â€śRepeat the vows after me,â€ť he smiled. My vision blurred,
but I spoke the traditional vows through lips numb from
â€śI take you, Tomasz Slaski, to be my husband, and I
promÂ¬ise to love, honor, and respect, to be faithful to
you, and not to forsake you until we are parted by death,
in fear of God, One in the Holy Trinity and all the
Iâ€™d looked to my wedding to Tomasz as a beacon, the same
way a sailor on rough seas might fix his gaze upon a
lighthouse at the distant shore. Our love had been my
reason to live and to carry on and to fight for so many
years, but our wedding day was supposed to be a brief
reprieve from all of the hardship and suffering. The
reality of that day was so very different, and my
disappointment in those moments seemed bigger than the
We were supposed to marry in the regal church in our
home town not there, standing just beyond the tent city of
the Buzuluk refugee and military camp, just far enough
from the tents that the squalid stench of eighty thousand
desperate souls was slightly less thick in the air. That
reprieve from the crowds and the smell came at cost; we
were outside, sheltered only by the branches of a sparse
fir tree. It was an unseasonably cold day for fall, and
every now and again, fat snowflakes would fall from the
heavy gray skies to melt into our hair or our clothing or
to make still more mud in the ground around our feet.
Iâ€™d known my â€śfriendsâ€ť in the assembled crowd of well-
wishers for only a few weeks. Every other person whoâ€™d once
been important to me was in a concentration camp or dead or
just plain lost. My groom awkwardly declined to take
communionâ€”a gesture which bewildered that poor, kindly
priest, but didnâ€™t surprise me one bit. Even as the bride,
I wore the only set of clothes I owned, and by then once-
simple routines like bathing had become luxuries long
forgotten. The lice infestation that had overrun the
entire camp had not spared me, nor my groom, nor the priest
â€”nor even a single individual in the small crowd of well-
wishers. Our entire assembly shifted and twitched
constantly, desperate to soothe that endless itch.
I was dull with shock, which was almost a blessing, because
it was probably all that saved me from weeping my way
through the ceremony.
Mrs. Konczal was yet another new friend to me, but she was
fast becoming a dear one. She was in charge of the orphans,
and Iâ€™d been working alongside her on compulsory work
duties since my arrival at the camp. When the ceremony was
done, she ushered a group of children out from the small
crowd of onlookers and she flashed me a radiant smile. Then
she raised her arms to conduct, and together, she and the
makeshift choir began to sing Serdecnza Matkoâ€”a hymn to the
Those orphans were filthy and skinny and alone, just as I
was, but they werenâ€™t sad at all in that moment. Instead,
their hopeful gazes were focused on me, and they were
eager to see me pleased. I wanted nothing more than to
wallow in the awfulness of my situationâ€”but the hope in
those innocent eyes took priority over my self-pity. I
forced myself to share with them all a bright, proud smile,
and then I made myself a promise.
There would be no more tears from me that day. If those
orphans could be generous and brave in the face of their
situation, then so could I.
After that I focused only on the music, and the sound of
Mrs. Konczalâ€™s magnificent voice as it rose high above and
around us in a soaring solo. Her tone was sweet and true,
and she scaled the melody like it was a gameâ€”bringing me
something close to joy in a moment that should have been
joyful, offering me peace in a moment that should have been
peaceful and dragÂ¬ging me back once more to a faith I kept
wishing I could lose.
And as that song wound on, I closed my eyes and I fought as
hard as I could to imagine Tomasz, standing beside me where
he should have been.
Because despite what the priest and the well-wishers
thought, and despite what my wedding certificate would
eventually sayâ€”despite what everyone else in the world
would think for de-cades Tomasz Slaski was not the man with
me at that makeshift altar at Buzuluk. A complete stranger
stood in his place, and we had inadvertently tied our lives
into a Gordian knot that would take more than eighty years
Iâ€™m having a very bad day, but however bad I feel right
now, I know my son is feeling worse. Weâ€™re at the grocery
store a few blocks away from our house in Winter Park,
Florida. Eddie is on the floor, his legs flailing as he
screams at the top of his lungs. Heâ€™s pinching his upper
arms compulsively; ugly purple and red bruises are already
starting to form. Eddie is also covered in yogurt, because
when all of this started twenty minutes ago, he emptied the
refrigerator shelves onto the floor and there are now
packages of various shapes and sizes on the tiles around
himâ€”an increasingly messy landing pad for his limbs as they
thrash. The skin on his face has mottled from the exertion,
and there are beads of sweat on his forehead.
Eddieâ€™s medication has made him gain a lot of weight in the
last few years, and now he weighs sixty-eight poundsâ€”thatâ€™s
more than half my body weight. I canâ€™t pick him up and
carry him out to the car as I would have done in his early
years. It didnâ€™t feel easy at the time, but back then, this
kind of public breakdown was much simpler because we could
Todayâ€™s disaster happened twenty minutes ago when Eddie
reached the yogurt aisle. He has a relatively broad palate
for yogurt compared to his peers at the special school he
attendsâ€”Eddie will at least eat strawberry and vanilla Go-
Gurt. There can be no substitutions on brand or containerâ€”
and no point trying to refill old tubes, either, because
Eddie sees right through it.
It has to be Go-Gurt. It has to be strawberry or vanilla.
It has to be in the tube.
At some point recently, someone at Go-Gurt decided to
improve the design of the graphics on the tubesâ€”the logo
has shifted and the colors are more vibrant. Iâ€™m sure no
one at Go-Gurt realized that such a tiny change would one
day lead to a seven-year-old boy smashing up a supermarket
aisle in a bewildered rage.
To Eddie, Go-Gurt has the old-style label, and this new
label only means that Eddie no longer recognizes Go-Gurt as
food he can tolerate. He knew we were going to the store to
get yogurt, then we came to the store, and Eddie looked at
the long yogurt aisle, and he saw a lot of things, all of
which he now identifies as â€śnot-yogurt.â€ť
I try to avoid this kind of incident, so we always have a
whole shelfful of Go-Gurt in the fridge at home. If not for
my grandÂ¬motherâ€™s recent hospitalization, Iâ€™d have done
this trip alone yesterday when Eddie was at school, before
he ate the last two tubes and â€śwe are running a little low
on yogurt and soupâ€ť beÂ¬came â€śholy crap, the only thing we
have left in the house that Eddie can eat is a single tin
of soup and he wonâ€™t eat soup for breakfast.â€ť
I donâ€™t actually know what Iâ€™m going to do about that now.
All I know is that if Campbellâ€™s ever changes the label of
their pumpkin soup tins, Iâ€™m going to curl up into a little
ball and give up on life.
Maybe Iâ€™m more like Eddie than I know, because this one
small thing today has me feeling like I might melt down
too. Besides Eddie and his sister, Pascale, my grandmother
Hanna is the most important person in my world. My husband,
Wade, and mother, Julita, would probably take exception to
that statement, but Iâ€™m frustrated with them both, so
right now thatâ€™s just how I feel. My grandmother, or Babcia
as Iâ€™ve always called her, is currently in the hospital,
because two days ago she was sitÂ¬ting at the dining table
at her retirement home when she had what we now know was a
minor stroke. And today, I spent the entire morning rushing
â€”rushing around the house, rushing in the car, rushing to
the yogurt aisleâ€”all so Eddie and I could get to Babcia to
spend time with her. I donâ€™t even want to acÂ¬knowledge to
myself that maybe Iâ€™m rushing even more than usual because
Iâ€™m trying to make the most of the time we have left with
her. In the background to all of this hurriedness, Iâ€™m
increasingly aware that her time is running out.
Eddie has virtually no expressive languageâ€”basically he
canâ€™t speak. He can hear just fine, but his receptive
language skills are weak too, so to warn him that today
instead of going to the train station to watch trains as we
usually do on a Thursday, I had to come up with a visual
symbol heâ€™d understand. I got up at 5 a.m. I printed out
some photos I took yesterday at the hospital, then trimmed
them and I stuck them onto his timetable, right after the
symbol for eat and the symbol for Publix and yogurt. I
wrote a social script that explained that today we had to
go to the hospital and we would see Babcia, but that she
would be in bed and she would not be able to talk with us,
and that Babcia was okay and Eddie is okay and everything
is going to be okay.
Iâ€™m aware that much of the reassurance in that script is a
lie. Iâ€™m not naiveâ€”Babcia is ninety-five years old, the
chances of her walking out of the hospital this time are
slimâ€”sheâ€™s probÂ¬ably not okay at all. But thatâ€™s what Eddie
needed to hear, so thatâ€™s what I told him. I sat him down
with the schedule and the script and I ran through both
until Eddie opened his iPad and the communications program
he usesâ€”an Augmentative and Alternative Communication app,
AAC for short. Itâ€™s a simple but life-changing conceptâ€”
each screen displays a series of images that represent the
words Eddie canâ€™t say. By pressing on those images, Eddie
is able to find a voice. This morning, he looked down at
the screen for a moment, then he pressed on the Yes button,
so I knew he understood what heâ€™d read, at least to some
Everything was fine until we arrived here, and the
packagÂ¬ing had changed. In the time thatâ€™s passed since,
concerned staff and shoppers have come and gone.
â€śCan we help, maâ€™am?â€ť they asked at first, and I shook my
head, explained his autism diagnosis and let them go on
their merry way. Then the offers of help became more
insistent. â€śCan we carry him out to your car for you,
maâ€™am?â€ť So then I explained that he doesnâ€™t really like to
be touched at the best of times, but if a bunch of
strangers touched him, the situation would get worse. I
could see from the expression on their faces that they
doubted things could get any worse, but not so much that
they dared risk it.
Then a woman came past with an identically dressed set of
perfectly behaved, no doubt neurotypical children sitting
up high in her cart. As she navigated her cart around my
out-of-control son, I heard one of the children ask her
what was wrong with him, and she muttered, â€śhe just needs a
good spankinâ€™, darlinâ€™.â€ť
Sure, I thought. He just needs a spankinâ€™. Thatâ€™ll teach
him how to deal with sensory overload and learn to speak.
Maybe if I spank him, heâ€™ll use the toilet spontaneously
and I can ditch the obsessively regimented routine I use to
prevent his incontinence. Such an easy solutionâ€¦ Why
didnâ€™t I think of spanking him seven years ago? But just as
my temper started to simmer she glanced at me, and I met
her gaze before she looked away. I caught a hint of pity in
her eyes, and there was no mistaking the fear. The woman
blushed, averted her gaze, and that leiÂ¬surely journey with
her children in the cart became a veritable sprint to the
People say things like that because it makes them feel
better in what is undoubtedly a very awkward situation. I
donâ€™t blame herâ€”I kind of envy her. I wish I could be that
self-righteous, but seven years of parenting Edison
Michaels has taught me nothing if not humility. Iâ€™m doing
the best I can, itâ€™s usually not good enough and thatâ€™s
just the way it is.
The manager came by a few minutes ago.
â€śMaâ€™am, we have to do something. Heâ€™s done hundreds of
dollarsâ€™ worth of damage to my stock and now the other
shoppers are getting upset.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m all ears,â€ť I said, and I shrugged. â€śWhat do you
â€śCan we call the paramedics? Itâ€™s a medical crisis, right?â€ť
â€śWhat do you think theyâ€™re going to do? Sedate him?â€ť
His eyes brightened.
â€śCan they do that?â€ť
I scowled at him, and his face fell again. We sat in
uncomfortable silence for a moment, then I sighed as if
heâ€™d convinced me.
â€śYou call the paramedics, then,â€ť I said, but the knowing
smile I gave him must have scared him just a bit, because
he stepped away from me. â€śLetâ€™s just see how Eddie copes
with a paramedic visit. Iâ€™m sure the blaring sirens and the
uniforms and more strangers canâ€™t make things much worse.â€ť
I paused, then I looked at him innocently. â€śRight?â€ť
The manager walked away muttering to himself, but he must
have thought twice about the paramedics because Iâ€™ve yet to
hear sirens. Instead, there are visibly uncomfortable store
assistants standing at either end of the aisle quietly
explaining the situation to shoppers and offering to pick
out any products they require to save them walking near my
noisy, awkward son.
As for me, Iâ€™m sitting on the floor beside him now. I want
to be stoic and I want to be calm, but Iâ€™m sobbing
intermittently, because no matter how many times this
happens, itâ€™s utterly humiliating. Iâ€™ve tried everything I
can to defuse this situation and my every attempt has
failed. This will only end when Eddie tires himself out.
Really, I should have known better than to risk bringing
him into a grocery store today. I donâ€™t think he fully
underÂ¬stands what this hospital visit means, but he knows
something is off. Not for the first time, I wish he could
handle a full-time school placement, instead of the two-
day-a-week schedule weâ€™ve had to settle for. If only I
could have dropped him off at school today and come here
alone, or even if I could have convinced my husband, Wade,
to stay home from work with Eddie.
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