Review: “The Dollmaker of Krakow”

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero
The Dollmaker of Krakow
by R.M. Romero 

After I finished reading “The Dollmaker of Krakow” all I wanted to do was sit in silence for a while. I didn’t have words to express what the experience of reading this novel was like – I don’t know when I last felt such a strong emotional reaction to a novel.
In an effort to describe this book succinctly, I would say that it is a historical novel with a fairy tale heart. And, rather than weakening either of these forms in the combination, the result strengthens the effect of both and creates something truly striking.Telling the story of Karolina – a fierce, kind doll with a glass heart – and the dollmaker who called her into the world, “Dollmaker” finds a story of magic in the midst of the holocaust. With the land of dolls and WWII Poland both facing an onslaught of destruction and hatred, Karolina’s arrival in the dollmaker’s life is a turning point for both characters scarred by the tragedy of war and loss.

As the horror of WWII plays out, Karolina and her friends encounter the unseen magic of the world around them. But magic doesn’t always work the way people expect, and the trials of war push the characters to their limits as they seek the means to hope in a world overcome by darkness.

 

While not shying away from the horrors of the holocaust, Romero’s novel finds the glimmers of hope and magic in the midst of tragedy. Combining fantasy, folklore, magic, and history, Romero weaves together the separate elements of her story into a fairy tale that is heartbreakingly tragic and unshakably hopeful.

Looking at themes of story and magic, courage and fear, hope and love – Romero does not simplify or look away from the tragedy of war and hatred. Rather, through the fantastic elements of the story, she allows us – through these characters – to see with fresh perspective. The heroes within these pages are not without their struggles. The villains were not always so. And, just maybe, there is more to the world around us than we are able to see at first.

“Everywhere there is pain.
But together there is hope.”

Stories keep allow us to hold onto the things and people that have been lost. Even with all the tragedy that these characters face, the novel remains unshakably hopeful. Line after line of Romero’s writing flows with striking beauty – the beauty of the world, the beauty of love, the beauty of community. The poetry of the narrative is touching and goes straight to the heart, elevating the novel still further – glimmering with hope and life and beauty even in the darkest moments.

War and tragedy rarely have easy answers and do not promise entirely happy endings, and Romero does not make light of the subject matter. Rather, she approaches everything about this narrative with a clear eye that is simultaneously realistic and convinced of light beyond the darkness.

“The Dollmaker of Krakow” is a novel that vitally remembers one of the darkest moments of human history, but it is equally a novel for today. War, pain, hate, despair – these things have not been vanquished. Part of the beauty of this novel is its continued relevance, it’s willingness to believe in goodness when so much about the world seems wrong.

For all the tragedy that Romero openly acknowledges within these pages, the final word is hope. And hope is something everyone could use a little more of. Hope in the face of darkness is beautiful.

Read this novel. You will not be disappointed.

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