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Karolina's Twins By Ronald H. Balson -Book Club Reading Guide

Karolina's Twins

by Ronald H. Balson

PBR Book Review:

We all need to bear witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust, individually as humans and collectively as a society. Reading, pondering and talking about these horrors ensures they will not happen again. This book, although fictional, brings to light yet another method the Nazis used to torment and break down their prisoners. The story has two threads. A present day Holocaust survivor Lena, who at the age of 89, sets out to finally fulfill her friend Karolina’s final wish. She hires a team to do what seems like an impossible task; find out if Karolina’s twins survived the war. Lena’s son, against this search, initiates proceeding to have her declared incompetent. The historical part of this book is Lena’s war time story of survival; which I found to be far more engaging. Lena lost everything, including her family, to the Holocaust and it’s difficult to read at times but also very inspiring. What makes this book special is that it’s based on the real life experiences of Fay Scharf Waldman, who gave the author permission to write her story.

Book Club Talking Points:

A son attempting to decalre his mother incompentant will hit some notes with book clubs. The connection to real life that this story has is also interesting and conversation worthy. The most conversation however will center around the events of Lens's past and her survival of the Nazi concentration camps as well as the choices she made to survive.

Praise for this book:

“Readers who crave more books like Balson’s Once We Were Brothers (2013) and Kristin Hannah’s bestselling The Nightingale (2015) will be enthralled by Karolina’s Twins.” —Booklist (starred review)

"A heart-wrenching but ultimately triumphant story." —Chicago Tribune

"Karolina's Twins is involving right from the start, it reads quickly, and fans of historical fiction are sure to enjoy it." —Chicago Jewish Star

“A heartbreaking tale of a mother’s love, friendship, and family in the face of increasingly brutal conditions and the constant threat of imminent death in Nazi-occupied Poland…reminiscent of the author’s first novel Once We Were Brothers…compelling.” —Library Journal

“The third in Balson’s promising series about a husband-and-wife investigation team specializing in Holocaust cases. [Lena Woodward’s] survivor account becomes the main source of suspense, since she is reluctant to reveal the full horror of what she experienced until the end…and [it] does not disappoint.” —Kirkus

"Balson kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what the next chapter would reveal. He did an excellent job in staying true to the historical facts of those years of the Holocaust and what Lena, the main character and survivor, had to go through. Balson keeps the suspense so riveting that it was difficult to put the book down. I would say most will read it in one night sitting—kudos to Ronald Balson." —Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff, Director of the University of Miami Holocaust Teacher Institute

*Author Website:

*Other Books by Same Author: Saving Sophie, Once We Were Brothers

*Discussion Questions

1. Lena and Catherine are certainly different people, from different backgrounds and different eras, yet they are alike in many respects. How does the story reveal their parallel characteristics?

2. Choosing to have a baby in the midst of the Holocaust is an impossible decision. What went through Lena’s mind? What do you think would go through your own?

3. There is an obvious disconnect in the relationship between Arthur and his mother. What brought it about? What do you think motivated Arthur to pursue incompetency hearings?

4. There have been extraordinary heroes who voluntarily entered Auschwitz to smuggle out information to the Allies. Witold Pilecki and Jan Karski are two such in- dividuals. Knowing what was happening in Auschwitz relatively early in the war, why do you think the Allies chose not to bomb Auschwitz? Do you agree with that decision?

5. Lena (and the survivor who inspired this novel) actively protested the Neo-Nazis’ plan to march through Skokie, Illinois, in 1978. Skokie is a town with many Holocaust survivors, which is why the Nazis chose the location. The American Civil Liberties Union led a lawsuit on behalf of the Nazis to allow the march, justifying their reasoning on First Amendment free speech grounds. What is your feeling about such a march and protest?

6. Colonel Muller was a ranking Wehrmacht of cer who also served in the underground, yet he refused to abjure his German status. He was an active part of the German oppression. What are your feelings about him? 7. Why do you think that Lena kept her secret for so many years?

8. There has always been quite a discussion and study about religion in the camps. How is it possible to believe in God under those circumstances? Yet Yossi and Chaya held on to their strong beliefs; Lena’s beliefs were not so clear and were often contradictory. What are your thoughts on the subject of God and suffering?

9. Poland had changed after the war. Why did David and Lena decide they could no longer live in Chrzanów?

10. Before Lena (and the survivor who inspired this story) could leave Chrzanów and Poland behind her, she had to go to Auschwitz so that she could see it through “liberated eyes.” What do you suppose she saw?

Book Summary
St. Martin's Press - 09/06/2016 - ISBN: 9781250098375 - 320 Pages

She made a promise in desperation
Now it's time to keep it

Lena Woodward, elegant and poised, has lived a comfortable life among Chicago Society since she immigrated to the US and began a new life at the end of World War II. But now something has resurfaced that Lena cannot ignore: an unfulfilled promise she made long ago that can no longer stay buried.

Driven to renew the quest that still keeps her awake at night, Lena enlists the help of lawyer Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart. Behind Lena’s stoic facade are memories that will no longer be contained. She begins to recount a tale, harkening back to her harrowing past in Nazi-occupied Poland, of the bond she shared with her childhood friend Karolina. Karolina was vivacious and beautiful, athletic and charismatic, and Lena has cherished the memory of their friendship her whole life. But there is something about the story that is unfinished, questions that must be answered about what is true and what is not, and what Lena is willing to risk to uncover the past. Has the real story been hidden these many years? And if so, why?

Two girls, coming of age in a dangerous time, bearers of secrets that only they could share.

Just when you think there could not be anything new to ferret out from World War II comes Karolina's Twins, a spellbinding new novel by the bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers and Saving Sophie. In this richly woven tale of love, survival and resilience during some of the darkest hours, the unbreakable bond between girlhood friends will have consequences into the future and beyond.
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