Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Review: Orphan Number Eight by Kim van Alkemade

A stunning debut novel in the vein of Sarah Waters' historical fiction and inspired by true events, it tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage.

In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a crowded tenement on New York City's Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had.

Though Rachel believes she's shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan's Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person's fate--to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals--is not always set in stone.

Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.

Paperback, 416 pages
Expected publication: July 7th 2015 by William Morrow & Company
Terri's Thoughts

**I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher William Morrow & Company via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  The expected publication date is July 7th 2015**

I just read the last few lines of this story and I sit here to write my thoughts and I can't seem to capture what I want to say.  I'm not even sure I know what I want to say.

I think that fans of historical fiction will really embrace this story and that there is a serious market for it.  I have always said that historical fiction is my favorite genre to read and as a result I can have some high expectations.  I was not let down.  I found the story of the orphanage to be really interesting and a little bit different then what I have read.  What adds an extra element is that I think it may be based around some true events which of course I now want to research and know more about.  I do know that one of the characters in the book was a real person based on the author comments so I really do hope this leads me to learn more about a part of history I was not aware of.

As with many of this genre, the story bounces back between past and present.  we learn the plight of Rachel as a young orphan and the plight of the adult Rachel.  I do not know what I would have done in Rachel's shoes if I was presented with the dilemma of Dr. Solomon.  I would like to think I would make an ethical choice however it is easy to judge when you are not walking in someone else's shoes.

I don't want to talk about this story anymore, I can't do it justice and I think it needs to speak for itself.  What I would really like is for others to read it and then we can start talking about it. 
For now I will just say that I strongly recommend this to fans of historical fiction and anyone who likes an emotional story that spans decades.

About the Author
Kim van Alkemade was born in New York City and spent her childhood in suburban New Jersey. Her late father, an immigrant from the Netherlands, met her mother, a descendant of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, in the Empire State Building. She attended college in Wisconsin, earning a doctorate in English from UW-Milwaukee. She is a professor at Shippensburg University where she teaches writing, and lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her creative nonfiction essays have been published in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, So To Speak, and CutBank. Orphan # 8 is her first novel.

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