A Hope at the End of the World
In 1944, with WWII raging, two Polish orphans, 16-year-old Luzyna and 19-year-old Helena, are surviving in the relative safety of a refugee camp in Allied-occupied Iran. Thousands of Polish children had been transported there after the Soviets aligned with the Allies. New Zealand’s offer to accept 700 teenagers exhilarates the sisters; however, only Luzyna is selected. After a complex set of events, Helena finds herself in the transport, impersonating her sister. On the ship to Wellington, Helena’s disguise is discovered, and she is taken advantage of by a man she knows. In New Zealand, Helena finds comfort and love with an airman, but her traumatic experiences haunt her; in particular, she must deal with the remorse of having betrayed her sister.
Basing her novel on records and diaries of refugees, Sarah Lark has penned this extraordinary WWII story of Polish civilians first exiled to Siberia, transported to Iran, and then disbursed to other countries. Her narrative is so authentic that even her editor inquired if it was true. The plight of the migrants during their travels, the meager living conditions, and the stress of life in the Iranian camp are evocatively presented. We can feel their elation as they reach New Zealand and relish its charm and beauty. With them, we learn about their new country’s history and culture, its generous Kiwis, and the indigenous Maoris. The introduction of love and conflict in the plot keeps us focused on the story. This is a thrilling read, particularly for this reviewer, who has seen, in Karachi’s European Cemetery, the graves of some of the Polish children who didn’t complete their journey.