- St. Martin’s Press. 320 pp. Hardcover $25.99.
An emotionally rich Holocaust thriller about long-kept secrets.
Karolina’s Twins is the third book in a trilogy (hopefully, to be a series) by Ronald H. Balson. Part legal thriller and part Holocaust narrative, the story echoes the pattern of Balson’s first novel, the highly successful Once We Were Brothers. As with the earlier book, the author risks the possible tedium of putting readers through long stretches of extremely detailed conversations in which one voice dominates. This time, it is the voice of Polish-born Lena Scheinman Woodward, a Holocaust survivor who has a complex story to tell, a promise to keep, and a secret. In her late 80s, Lena is in fine physical and mental condition; she speaks with elegance and precision.
The setting for her storytelling is primarily the law office of Catherine Lockhart, a lawyer whom Lena insists should represent her. But as much as Lena reveals to Catherine, the lawyer feels that her client is holding something back. Meanwhile, Lena’s son, Arthur, is prepared to have her declared incompetent: He fears she will squander family resources on an old obsession, and he strives to take control of the assets.
To Arthur, Lena appears obsessed and delusional. But Lena’s preoccupations stem from a promise to return to Poland and find her best friend Karolina’s twin daughters. The infant girls, traveling to a concentration camp along with Karolina and another woman, were cast out of a railroad car in order to save their lives.
The unfolding narrative, which requires many meetings, is in part shaped by Catherine’s questions. Often, Catherine’s husband, private investigator Liam Taggart, is in the room. It will be Liam’s task to verify the facts of Lena’s story — including the reliability of her memory.
So there is the story Lena tells, mostly focused on her experiences during the Holocaust, the story of the legal proceedings, and the story of the relationship between Catherine and Liam, appearing in the trilogy together, for the third time (including the second book, Saving Sophie).
The Holocaust narrative is fascinating, horrifying, and yet on the whole, uplifting. We are witness to terrible suffering via the full range of Nazi cruelty and the defiant, generous actions of a handful of individuals. It lives in the authentic details of place, especially the Scheinman family’s small town, which is occupied by Nazi forces. Balson’s historical research goes far beyond the story he was told by the woman whose life served as his main source. Moreover, he employs that research smoothly and stunningly.
Once the legal proceedings are underway, Balson is writing a courtroom drama. Arthur’s lawyer is truly nasty: a fine match for his client. The unfriendly, self-important judge threatens Catherine with contempt of court if she does not reveal information that would sacrifice attorney-client privilege. The competency hearing requires more than the display of Lena’s obvious mental and physical health. How can she prove that she is neither fabricating nor imagining seemingly far-fetched events?
To read the full review, please click here: Karolina’s Twins: A Novel | Washington Independent Review of Books
Mr. Balson will be speaking about this novel at the Collier County Jewish Book Festival on January 11 at Temple Shalom. Also on the program, which begins at 1:00pm, will be Alyson Richman, author of The Velvet Hours. Full JBF program soon available at jewishbookfestival.org.