Ludwika is based on a real person, with her story pieced together and re-imagined by the author. A commendable part of this book is the mission to find Ludwika’s lost relatives in Poland. War separates and destroys people. Veterans often search for former crewmates and soldiers, both living and dead. Refugees do the same.
This novel is also commendable in the arena of ethics and morality. Examples of human cruelty and kindness can lead us to examine our own lives. We might wonder whether we would respond with one or the other in terrible circumstances. We might realize we can be hasty and uninformed in our judgments of those people who have faced such circumstances.
Ludwika, the young Polish woman, makes an initial decision, which is a compromise, meant to save her family. There is no win-win possible for her as the Nazis begin their occupation of Poland and take over her town. She knows her decision to leave Poland with a German officer, to live in Germany, will be seen as betrayal, both of her country and her family, especially her young daughter.
This initial decision sets a series of events in motion, sending her spiraling into the heart of the beast. Throughout it all, though, Ludwika focuses on the better aspects of the people she meets more than on the less palatable. How can this young German officer be so bad if he treats her with such gentleness and apparent love? He seems to be honest, so she trusts him. She believes he will keep his word and her family will be protected.
Ludwika has the desires and passion of a young woman. She is at times selfish and foolish, other times caring and perceptive. She longs for a life partner and a family. Uprooted by war, she strives to belong, but the dangers of her life as an outsider in Nazi Germany fray her nerves, at times making her lose hope or act out of fear, or hope for the wrong thing. Time and again she renews her sense of purpose: to survive and protect her family.
One day, she hopes to return to Poland and be reunited with her family, although she knows it may be impossible due to her own actions. Beyond that, she knows what life in a dictatorship, as a second-class or non-citizen, is like, and toward the end of the war, she is disheartened by the Soviet Union’s takeover of Poland.
The writing style is uneven, and some of the characters inconsistent. I was distracted by the typographical errors as well (warm instead of warn, for instance). Parts of the story were well told, others less believable. I was surprised to learn that several major characters were entirely fictional. Ultimately, though, Ludwika’s story is worth reading. For me, the ending was most interesting.