The Toymaker has been sitting on my TBR shelf for months (yes, I need a shelf now and I’m a little ashamed). Finally I had the inspiration to pick it up and discovered that it was nothing like I had imagined. Generally historical fiction or books that deal with WWII tell these absolutely harrowing tales, yes, but filled with a little hope in the form of a brave protagonist. Someone that sees the evil and works to stem it, either overtly or in secret. Often these characters become dear to you. This is not one of those books. This book will not give you all the feels. In fact, I most likely will not read this book again. In saying all that this book is masterfully crafted and will leave you with a profound feeling upon finishing the pages. The story starts with Adam, the owner of a large toy company built from the ground up by his grandfather, Arkady, who escaped the horrors of Auschwitz to immigrate to Australia. The story is told from the perspective of Adam, Arkady and Adam’s wife Tess, who develops a special bond with Arkady.
The more I think about this book the more I am in awe of Pieper’s talent for crafting a novel. This book just cracks over 250 pages and for an author to create such a strong piece of work in such a short amount of time is impressive. I started this book late at night, just to read a few pages before turning in. Next minute (or hour, really) I found myself 150 pages deep and still not wanting to go to sleep. I even woke up early the next morning (on a Sunday, no less) just to finish the story. Another aspect I respect is how attached I became to the book despite having no real love for any of the characters, in fact some were downright reprehensible. So much of my attachment to other novels comes from the characters and to build such a strong novel without that fall back is masterful.
I read more than a few negative reviews about this book that mentioned not making it past the first chapter of the book, finding Adam an awful character that they refused to read about. I feel this initial reaction leads you to missing out on a unique experience. Books aren’t always designed to make you feel comfortable. Characters and themes can be unpleasant to read about but sometimes there is so much to be gained from challenging yourself. This is one of those times. While reading this novel was an important literary experience where you learn all about just what humans will do to survive I am sure it is not an experience I will repeat. After the well-executed plot twists and turns are revealed to you and you have absorbed the lessons on offer I don’t feel there is much more than can be gain from further reads. My impressions from this book will linger on without that. In fact my copy of this book already has a books on the rails sticker on it and ready to go, to impart this masterful novel on an unsuspecting commuter.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone, just be prepared to be a little uncomfortable with aspects of the plot at times. This book is definitely worth the challenge though. The lengths that humans will go to in order to preserve their owns lives are incredible. There is so much to be learned about human nature and not all of it is pretty but I’m sure we are all aware of that. Pieper has an incredible gift in the way he constructs and writes a novel and not many writers could pull off such a story. I give The Toymaker four toy dolls that Arkady built this story upon.