Saying Goodbye to Warsaw by Michael Cargill

Friday, 27 March 2015


Series: Standalone
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Release Date: September 7th 2013
Source: E-book received in exchange for an honest review
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Cover Rating: 4/5 Stars
Synopsis: Like any girl who is loved by her family, Abigail Nussbaum loves to chase butterflies, enjoys lying on her back looking for shapes in the clouds, and happily teaches young children to make daisy chains. In the eyes of certain people, however, Abigail has committed a heinous crime. The year is 1940; the place is Poland; Abigail happens to be Jewish. Along with half a million other Jews, Abigail and her family are evicted from their home and forced to live in the bombed out ruins of Warsaw, the Polish capital. Although a handful decide to fight back, is the uprising strong enough to save Abigail’s spirit?
First Line: "When Abigail wriggled her toes, the tops of her shoes rippled as if a small rabbit were burrowing around inside them."

When I started Saying Goodbye to Warsaw I did not know what to expect. I had not read a wartime historical fiction in a long time so I was slightly worried that my review wouldn't do the book justice due to my lack of ability to compare it to others in the genre. However, as I read I found this problem nullified given that there is no need to compare a book when it is excellent in its own right. A problem that I always find with novels narrated by children are that they are much too simplistic, understandably so of course but it is still off putting. Abigail's narration did not have this problem; it was intelligent and complex while still very dreamy and childlike. The mix of these attributes was a risky one but it really paid off. Another problem of novels in which the protagonist is a child is that it usually results in much less concentration on other characters. Again, Cargill flawlessly avoided this through his choice of narration style. Not only do we see multiple perspectives within the story but we are able to connect with them just as easily as we do with Abigail. In fact, my favourite character, Borys, was one of the most minor but still so well developed that I couldn't help loving him. Not one of the characters is exaggerated or idealised, we can easily relate to the fear Chana's fear for her children's safety as well as Leo's anger at the Germans for forcing the Jews into the ghetto. It is impossible to read Saying Goodbye to Warsaw without identifying completely with the characters responses to their situation, not to mention counting yourself lucky not to have experienced such horrors if you are anything like me.

The plot of Saying Goodbye to Warsaw begins quite slowly but the undertone of the horrific war going on in the background plus the readers own knowledge of the persecution of the Jews means that the tension builds throughout even if the events are relatively calm. This clever plot device means that the eventual explosive climax is all the more shocking and effective in contrast to the calmer beginning. Speaking of the ending, it is not often that I am surprised by finales but this one caught me off guard. I cannot tell you any more about it but be prepared to be emotional. However, the comment on the emotional nature is not only reserved for the endings. The extreme tragedy of the story line is emphasised throughout. I promise you that if you pick up this book there will be times when you must fight the urge to internally scream in frustration, not to mention despair.

One element of the book I didn't enjoy is how unrealistic Abigail's character temporarily became. It was only brief, near the end of the book, and therefore excusable, but I did find myself forgetting how old she really was due to her seemingly innate skill at adult activities such as first aid and shooting. One scene in the novel had her learning to accurately shoot a gun in just three attempts, I am no expert on that kind of thing but I doubt most adults could do that, let alone ten year old girls. But, as said earlier, this flaw is only minor in an otherwise interesting and gripping story.

I would recommend Saying Goodbye to Warsaw to those who love historical fiction just as much as those who aren't such big fans for one simple reason, it doesn't read like your usual historical fiction. You don't need to remember vast amounts of historical detail in order to understand the plot like with many; this book could easily be read with minimal knowledge of the situation in Poland for Jews therefore no one should be discouraged. Saying Goodbye to Warsaw has a tense and gripping plot and realistic characters with whom you can easily empathise with and for this reason it gets 4/5 Stars from me. I certainly look forward to reading more of Michael’s work.

Best Quote: "There we are,' he said, shooting her a quick wink. ’You look so much prettier than your brother when you blush."

9 People dared to comment.:

Cynthia Bateman said...

I'll definitely add this to my TBR pile. I'm currently immersed in nonfiction and fiction set in the years immediately preceding WWI. I was getting a little emotional burn out reading WWII era. (I would worry about myself if I could read it without strong feelings).

Michael Cargill said...

Ah, it's been a tense wait for your review... and I'm very glad you enjoyed it.

Borys is a surprisingly popular character actually. Oddly enough he literally didn't exist in my head until the point he appears in the story - he only came about because I needed someone to accompany Alenka to the meeting, and all his attributes were generated on the fly.

The ending has certainly split opinion, and it reflects how emotionally attached I become to the characters. If I could go back in time I would consider leaving that final chapter out.

I'm glad you liked the cover as well. I spent a fair amount of time looking for the right image and that one pretty much leapt out at me when I saw it.

Emily said...

Strong feelings will definitely be triggered in this one, I warn you!

Emily said...

If Borys was made up on the spot then I am very impressed!
I've read other reviews that were more negative towards the ending but I didn't mind it. I saw how it could have gone either way and I think both could have been satisfying.
And you did a good job with the cover, it is minimalist but effective.

Yolanda Renee said...

Excellent review it does make you want to read the book. The subject matter is heart breaking, and I usually avoid books or movies if I know in advance a box of tissues is required. Then again, I do love good writing, and sometimes a good cry is good for everyone. I wish Michael all the best - the cover is excellent!

melcj.com said...

Great review, glad to see you enjoyed this. I've just added it to my TBR list and am looking forward to it. The WW2 story from Shades of Grey was one of my favourites, so I've been looking forward to seeing what he's done this time.

Emily said...

You'll definitely find it a worthwhile read!

Emily said...

If you loved his other stuff you'll certainly enjoy this one!

Michael Cargill said...

The two main characters from that WW2 story are the stars of We Go Again.

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