Published: 6 September 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Directly I saw him, I knew he had to die.’ Germany, 1945. Klara Janowska and her daughter Alicja have walked for weeks to get to Graufeld Displaced Persons camp. In the cramped, dirty, dangerous conditions they, along with 3,200 others, are the lucky ones. They have survived and will do anything to find a way back home.
But when Klara recognises a man in the camp from her past, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins. He knows exactly what she did during the war to save her daughter. She knows his real identity. What will be the price of silence? And will either make it out of the camp alive?
In The Survivors, Klara and Alicja are interred in a camp in Germany after having walked all the way from Poland and are hoping to be repatriated to England where Klara has relatives. The camp is a dangerous place though the refugees are still fighting for survival due to a lack of food and the supplies. Klara is tough though and she finds away of procuring the things people want the most and is a operating a black market scheme to ensure she and Alicja are safe. Klara’s plans are upset though when she spots a familiar face from her past and she realises she will never be safe while he is there.
It takes a while for Klara’s background story to be revealed but it isn’t hard to figure out who the man is and why she is so afraid. Reviewing books like this is always a dilemma because you don’t want to reveal too much of the plot for fearing of spoiling it for someone else but suffice to say there are few secrets in Klara’s past that she doesn’t want revealed to the authorities.
The book is narrated by both Klara and her daughter, Alicja, so we get to see two different points of view which is essential as Klara sometimes does a lot of questionable things. Although Alicja is very young, she does have good insight into what is going on because she has endured so much through the war and is wise beyond her years. Klara is a strong character who has to make some hard decisions, decisions that are sometimes morally questionable, but she dares the reader to judge her motives and you find yourself asking what you would do in the circumstances. There are a myriad of other characters in their lives, some good some bad, and there are a few I wouldn’t have minded getting to know better but there just wasn’t enough time.
The setting of the book is incredible and it highlighted a period in the aftermath of the war that I wasn’t too familiar with. While I knew thousands of people had been released from concentration camps and had to be repatriated, I never really thought about how that process was achieved and where these refugees lived in the meantime. Many of the refugees were living in appalling conditions as the authorities struggled to provide for them and as the book progresses you learn how the camps were initially run by the military and were eventually taken over by the United Nations. It certainly sends a shiver down your spine when you realise not much as changed today when you consider the conditions our modern day refugees endure without the same level of help.
Klara and Alicja’s camp is situated in Germany which comes with a whole set of additional problems as there are German refugees in the camp which unsettles many. The German refugees were dissidents who either spoke out against the Nazi regime or were considered unsuitable to be part of the new Reich but most of the refugees cannot see past the fact they are German. The camp’s situation also makes it more difficult for supplies to be procured as the nearby towns have been destroyed by the Allies to the extent the Germans are starving. While I knew German towns were heavily bombed by the Allies, I had no idea how heavy the bombardment was and the sheer number of people who were killed. I think we are taught a very black and white view of the war at school, however I’ve been reading a lot of books lately which tell a different story about how civilians were trapped in their own Nazi nightmare.
The pace of the book is quite tight and I felt like I raced through the reading even though there was a lot to ponder, however there are a few twists at the end of the book which I felt were unnecessary and spoiled certain aspects for me. There was enough going on in the plot with Klara for me not to care about things like hidden Nazi treasure which is such a cliche anyway and the twist in Klara’s personal life had me rolling my eyes as we were firmly in soap territory here.