First Fiction Fridays: Only By Blood by Renate Krakauer

July 24, 2015

Only By Blood is not a standard mystery novel, but if you like a compelling story that you can't put down, an exciting page-turner, full of twists and turns, you will find this a satisfying read. Set partly in Poland and partly in Canada, Only By Blood moves back and forth over a sixty-year period, recreating the experience of two Polish women, one Jewish and one Catholic.

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OnlyByBlood

What:

Only By Blood (Inanna Publications, 2015)

Who:

After a career in post-secondary education, Renate Krakauer began writing fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has previously appeared in literary journals and newspapers like the Globe & Mail, in addition to a short memoir, But I Had a Happy Childhood.

Why you need to read this now:

Only By Blood is not a standard mystery novel, but if you like a compelling story that you can't put down, an exciting page-turner, full of twists and turns, you will find this a satisfying read.

Set partly in Poland and partly in Canada, Only By Blood moves back and forth over a sixty-year period, recreating the experience of two Polish women, one Jewish and one Catholic. Mania, a Catholic doctor in Warsaw, begins a journey of self-discovery when her mother, Krystina, dies and has only enough breath left to urge her daughter to "find them ... make it right."

Mania has no idea what her mother means. In her efforts to understand, she knows she must dig into Krystina's past but her mother has always been silent about her family. She is warned by a friend that she should seriously consider the potential consequences of digging into family history: she may find out some things that she would rather not know.

Roza, the Jewish protagonist in the novel, struggles for survival through the harrowing ordeals of Nazi occupied south-west Poland. After the deprivations of war, she and her family go through several serial displacements from their home as so many refugees are forced to endure. They eventually end up in Toronto. Here she and her husband try to put the horrors of war behind them. But they, like Krystina, maintain a close-mouthed silence and perpetuate the secrecy about the war years when dealing with their daughter, Helen.

Spanning two continents, this story tells about the lengths to which mothers will go in order to save their daughters, the fraught relationship of Catholic Poles and Polish Jews during and after the war, and the circumstances which made ordinary people defy the law to act like heroes or break the law to cause pain and suffering to others.

Thematically, this story deals with survival and secrets, broken families and broken hearts, families torn apart and displaced, and the loss of human dignity and identity itself. It is a testament to the power of love of mothers who will go to great lengths to protect their daughters, but at what cost? Is unethical behaviour − even behaviour bordering on the criminal − ever justified in the name of love? And can there be reconciliation between Jews and Catholics of Polish heritage after their very different perspectives and experiences during the war and its sometimes tragic consequences? 

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Thank you to Inanna Publications, especially Renee Knapp, for sharing this novel with us.


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