England, 1943. Lost in fog, pilot Vee Katchatourian is forced to make an emergency landing where she meets enigmatic RAF airman Stefan Bergel, and then can’t get him out of her mind.
In occupied Poland, Ewa Hartman hosts German officers in her father’s guest house, while secretly gathering intelligence for the Polish resistance. Mourning her lover, Stefan, who was captured by the Soviets at the start of the war, Ewa is shocked to him on the street one day.
Haunted by a terrible choice he made in captivity, Stefan asks Vee and Ewa to help him expose one of the darkest secrets of the war. But it is not clear where everyone’s loyalties lie until they are tested…
Published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day and based on WWII war atrocity the Katyn massacre, When We Fall is a moving story of three lives forever altered by one fatal choice.
When, When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby popped through my letterbox I admit I was both excited and thrilled to be trusted with a review copy of this novel. Having read the authors first book, which I absolutely loved, I couldn’t wait to read this story, about three lives forever changed by one pivotal moment in time.
When We Fall is an intensely moving and powerful read, one that refuses to be put aside for the everyday things in life, like the hovering, eating or drinking! These tasks might keep you functioning, but books like this not only feed your soul, they bring to light events history has tried to hide, buried in the mists of time.
Carolyn Kirby weaves her story in a respectful and moving way around events that took place in the Second World War, the Katyn Massacre. She gives us a story that though emotional, draws back from being mawkish, for these moments deserve a story that is compelling, acting like clarion call to us all, to remember so many lives were lost. I felt drawn to the story, because her writing enticed me in, teased out each moment, until the puzzle around the terrible choice Stefan made, the dark secret that will come to define them all, is laid bare before us. My heart was broken into fragments, shattered I thought beyond repair.
It is a splendid feeling when a story causes such an emotional reaction in a reader and Carolyn Kirby gave me that, while delivering a narrative of such searing honesty that I feel honoured to be asked to review it. The tale it tells is powerful, because the events around it are so shocking and so it deserves the gravitas that Carolyn Kirby injects into the story. The tension never ebbs as the drama propels you forward to an end I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but I kept on reading, because not knowing felt worse, than the emotional heartache I felt certain I was headed for. I embraced it all because she made me want to.
The characters are exquisitely drawn, in particular Stefan with whom I was fascinated. I was never really sure of where his loyalties lay and if he could be trusted by either Vee or Ewa, let alone me as the reader. He was an enigma, so much so I felt on edge every time he appeared in the story. Stefan was the linchpin around whom the stories of the two women revolved and though on times I mistrusted him, at each stage of the story I always wanted to know if he was good at his core.
Ewa and Vee are both strong female characters, the type who stride into their futures, not in Stefan’s shade, but his equal. I loved how they were given there own very defined role in the story, each connected to Stefan, but not shaped by their feelings for him. Women often struggled for recognition during the war and Carolyn Kirby, uses both of them to inform this part of her narrative. Both Vee the pilot and Ewa the resistance fighter perfectly illustrate that complex contradiction women lived with at this time! Expected to be feminine while being used to fill men’s roles, but always reminded that should never expect to maintain this perilous equality once the war ended. Ewa and Vee both want more, especially Vee, whose passion for flying is no less than the men around her, it marks her out as a individual of complex feelings that shape and explain the path she takes.
I love that Carolyn, gave me two female characters of such richness and depth!
When We Fall takes a true story and creates around it a tale of passion, love, loyalty and a quest for justice. Within its pages is a sparkling work of immense breath. Gripping and electrifying in equal measure, the research that obviously went into it, informs the reader of its darkest moments. It is a historical thriller and because at its heart is a shadowy truth, it is all the more powerful and effecting.
You can purchase When We Fall from Amazon and Waterstones. But why not give your local Indie bookshop a call and order it from them. These wonderful places have kept going throughout everything and they desperately need our support.
You can join the on-event for the launch of this novel on the 7th of May by following this LINK.
About the author
Carolyn Kirby’s debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was published in March 2019 by No Exit Press the UK and Dzanc Books in North America. The book has received great praise from reviewers and journalists. The Sunday Mirror called it “a great historical novel with bite,” and it was chosen by The Times as an historical fiction book of the month. The novel went on to be long-listed for the Historical Writers Association debut crown award.
You can follow the author on Twitter @novelcarolyn