Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 1, 2019

The Good Doctor of Warsaw, by Elisabeth Gifford

After reading a book recently which I found thoroughly distasteful, I was in the mood for something a bit more uplifting.  I browsed my shelves and found The Good Doctor of Warsaw, which was the perfect choice because it’s based on the true story of Janusz Korczak, a hero of the Warsaw Ghetto.

This is the blurb:

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…

Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

That, pretty much, is the story, and because most of us already know what happened to the Warsaw Ghetto, there’s not much narrative tension, and the issues are clear cut.  There are evil people and good people, and the situation in which the Jews find themselves is beyond comprehension.  But the simplicity of this historical fiction does not detract from the value of reading it, and while complex characterisation usually makes for a better novel, in this case there is something very powerful about reading characters who seem to be too good to be true — because they really were, in the face of appalling circumstances, brave and good people.

It’s not great literature, but it is a great story, and the book restored my sense of equilibrium.

PS When I visited Library Thing to enter this book as read, I noticed that there it is being touted as suitable for “fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz”.   Lest you imagine for a millisecond that I am endorsing that book, I urge you to read my thoughts about it and the ensuing comments, here.

Author: Elisabeth Gifford
Title: The Good Doctor of Warsaw
Publisher: Corvus, (an imprint of Atlantic Books) 2018,350 pages
ISBN: 9781786492463
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books, $29.99

Available from Fishpond: The Good Doctor of Warsaw

 


Responses

  1. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

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  2. I think I might know the book you needed an antidote to. 😱

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    • Maybe *chuckle*.
      But although I’ve written the review, I haven’t published it yet. I’m feel so hostile towards it, I’m letting it mellow a bit, and rereading what I’ve written from time to time, to see if I’ve been too harsh or misunderstood something.

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      • Good idea, I’m leaving mine as Goodreads thoughts only, I won’t be reviewing it.

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        • It’s difficult: you don’t to give a book any air, but OTOH there are things sometimes that need to be said.

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  3. Statements that put the word fan anywhere near Holocaust novels unsettle me. The two just don’t go hand in hand, do they? I’ve had this on my review tbr for the longest time, and I do want to read it, but I find I need to pace Holocaust reads out for myself. Only one every few months. And there a quite a few on my tbr so it takes a while for me to get through them. I may prioritise this one though after reading your review.

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    • Indeed. I met someone today who told me that they “loved” Tattooist, and I thought, (but didn’t say) how could anyone “love” a book about the Holocaust? Her opinion reinforced for me that the book is a case of Holocaust Lite and it still offends me.
      PS It’s great to have you back!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s good to be back!
        People must read lightly, in that, maybe they don’t really deeply contemplate the backstory of what they’re reading. I don’t know, but I share your offence.

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        • I never thought the time would come when people would make light entertainment out of it.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t read historical fiction about the Holocaust if I can possible help it, because of the tendency to revisionism which you imply in your review of the Tattooist. I know I should know more, but I can better satisfy that requirement with memoirs and, if necessary, straight histories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One day, Bill, I’m going to an historical novel that will change your opinion!
      (I predict that it will come from Africa.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The books sounds so good. I actually wonder if most people know about what happened in regards to the Warsaw Ghetto. I am 52 years old and many people in my generation seemed to have little knowledge of these things. Perhaps it is different here in The United States though. Either way, I think that telling stories about these things is still important.

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    • Gosh, Brian, that surprises me… I have the impression that there is a huge Jewish community in the US because so many of them sought refuge there before, during and after the war. And there was that film The Piano, with its riveting scene of the pianist at the end walking through the rubble of the entire city around him.

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