Karoli­na’s Twins

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

Ronald H. Bal­son has anoth­er Holo­caust sto­ry to tell, and he tells it well. 

Karolina’s Twins chron­i­cles the jour­ney of a young Jew­ish Pol­ish school­girl who becomes a Holo­caust sur­vivor wracked with regret, but also with much resolve. Lena Wood­ward is on a mis­sion she has let lapse for 70 years. She must find her best friend’s aban­doned twin daugh­ters and is now deter­mined to return to Poland to keep her sacred promise to her dead friend.

Lena and Karoli­na grow up inno­cent­ly in Chrzanow, Poland, but their lives change when Ger­many invades. The teenagers, their fam­i­lies tak­en away, must now live by their wits to sur­vive bru­tal fac­to­ry labor, the ghet­to, and the occu­pa­tion. Karoli­na finds love, solace, and food with a Ger­man sol­dier while Lena is watched after by the fac­to­ry over­seer and a sym­pa­thet­ic Nazi offi­cer. Their tenac­i­ty, brav­ery, and skills keep them alive. Lena dis­plays a reser­voir of courage as she helps her friend care for her babies, risks her life for the Resis­tance, and dar­ing­ly attempts escapes to sur­vive each day. The friend­ship and faith­ful­ness, suf­fer­ing, and love Lena and Karoli­na expe­ri­ence haunt Lena as she lives out her life in Chicago.

Par­al­lel­ing Lena’s account is the con­tin­u­ing sto­ry and return of the team of Attor­ney Cather­ine Lock­hart and pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor Liam Tag­gart, core char­ac­ters of Balson’s pre­vi­ous nov­els. Cather­ine and Liam are now in a new phase of their rela­tion­ship, liv­ing togeth­er and expect­ing a child.

While Lena’s retelling of her sto­ry is the main focus of the book, Cat must also deal with Lena’s bel­liger­ent son, Arthur. He feels his aged moth­er is suf­fer­ing from demen­tia and is obsessed with find­ing twins he nev­er heard about, inves­ti­gat­ing and cor­rob­o­rat­ing Lena’s mem­o­ries that con­stant­ly tug and nag at Cather­ine as not being com­plete or entire­ly open. 

So much of the struc­ture of the book is Lena relat­ing her nar­ra­tive to Cat and plot dri­ven that all the char­ac­ters are not fleshed out or devel­oped ful­ly, but Lena’s WWII expe­ri­ences and the present-day Chica­go sto­ry­lines keep the sto­ry mov­ing quick­ly and build sus­pense and inter­est: the need to know about the twins, the hor­rif­ic cir­cum­stances, the his­to­ry, and Lena’s per­son­al tor­ment com­pel the read­er to turn page after page to learn the final outcome. 

Bal­son has loose­ly based the sto­ry of Lena Schein­man Wood­ward on the life of a Holo­caust sur­vivor he met while on tour for Once We Were Broth­ers. In his Acknowl­edge­ments, the author dis­cuss­es the exten­sive research involved for this nov­el. Bal­son had vis­it­ed the small towns and larg­er cities of Poland as well as Auschwitz-Birke­nau, muse­ums and libraries, and exten­sive­ly stud­ied his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments. He relates an abun­dance of facts and infor­ma­tion through Lena’s nar­ra­tive; most com­pelling are the first­hand accounts of how the Nazis took over each town, installed cur­fews and life-chang­ing restric­tions, blacked out news, and sep­a­rat­ed the Jews from the gen­er­al pop­u­lace. The dis­ease, hunger, lack of space, and hope­less­ness of ghet­to life as well as the forced slave labor, liq­ui­da­tion of the ghet­tos, Juden­rats, death march­es, and con­cen­tra­tion camp exis­tence are ren­dered and har­row­ing­ly absorbed into Lena’s and Karolina’s story. 

Cen­tral to Karolina’s Twins are the ques­tions of what sur­vivors can share, what they will talk about, how they remem­ber, and com­ing to terms with their mem­o­ries and their own sur­vival. Lena must face deeply guard­ed secrets she had locked away for 70 years and also deal with the real­i­ty of today. Bal­son has cre­at­ed a state­ly, proud, accom­plished, and humane hero­ine to tell his story.

Relat­ed Content:

    Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

    She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

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