What secret is this Auschwitz survivor hiding?

Adam Kulakov, the initial character in Liam Pieper’s book, The Toymaker, is a thoroughly unlikeable person – but please don’t

Adam Kulakov, the initial character in Liam Pieper’s book, The Toymaker, is a thoroughly unlikeable person – but please don’t allow that assertion put you off reading what is an interesting story. In the first few pages, I pondered, “Is this a book I’d normally read?” Curiosity and Pieper’s excellent writing kept me going. It was worthwhile. Adam, though important, is really only a secondary player; The Toymaker is the story of his grandfather, Arkady.

All of life is a lie, an aphorism that assumes many a role in the story as it moves back and forth between two eras.

Adam owns and operates a successful Melbourne toy company established in the years following WW2 by Arkady, a refugee from the German death camps. The business is evidently based on a toymaking history passed down through several generations of their Russian Jewish family.

The Toy Maker

Adam, 40-ish, is feckless. In his grandfather’s opinion, he is not really all that bright, something borne out in the early pages of the book when he is having sex with a schoolgirl in the back of his X5. Clara “…bloomed at fourteen (with) the Ashkenazi time bomb of her genetics.” He takes a selfie on his mobile phone, photographing them in flagrante delicto, an impulsive act that will come back to bite him.

Adam is married to Tess, who is far too good for him. She realises, “…in the time between their first night together and the birth of their child, she has fallen in love with him,”  and that “…the secret to happiness is triage.” Tess and Arkady become close; they appear to be nice characters who have overcome difficulties imposed on them by others. But is appearance always right?

Arkady is sent to Auschwitz. Initially, although a student, he says he is a farmer. He is tall and fit and, if considered strong, has a better chance of being a worker and not sent to his death. A camp friend is beaten to a pulp and Arkady, a final year medical student prior to his arrest, patches the other man up as well as he can under primitive circumstances. A German doctor watches and recognises him for what he is. The German is Dieter Pfeiffer; he places Arkady in the camp hospital.

We read about some of the experimentation performed by the Germans under the direction of Josef Mengele. Although it offers nothing new, it provides a different perspective and a platform for the tragic twist that is the story. From that point, anything I add would act as a spoiler. Please read the book; you will find it a worthy addition to your library.

The book’s ending is tantamount to a new beginning; Adam carries a potentially explosive secret and Tess, through her close association with Arkady, has greater contextual understanding of business and finance. There is neither hint nor suggestion that Pieper will continue the storyline so ably started with The Toymaker. The reader is privy to a great deal of background that carries an exciting prospect of a sequel. I for one would be happy should it become reality.

The Toymaker, by Liam Pieper, is available from Dymocks.

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