Saying Goodbye To Warsaw is a book about war’s corruption of innocence and how uncertainty and fear battles with bravery and resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The story follows nine year-old Abigail, her big brother Leo and their mum as they endure life in the ghetto. They are surrounded by the constant threat of drunk or unprovoked German soldiers, and eventually find solace in a secret, underground soup kitchen.
In a grand sense, not a lot actually happens throughout this relatively short book. However, it’s not plot events that matter, and the construction of the story is done masterfully throughout. Instead of lots of big events, Cargill focuses on the instability, worry and boredom of the ghetto. It comes as a shock when we finally see some resistance happening, but this just shows how well hidden it was, both from the reader and the German soldiers.
The way in which the story jumps effortlessly between points of view – all three members of the family plus Alenka, Leo’s resistance fighter friend – is a breath of fresh air, as even when we see three different people’s thoughts in the space of a few paragraphs, it never feels jerky or unnecessary.
It is very easy to connect to the characters and feel heart-wrenchingly sad at their obviously awful situation. This is particularly poignant when it comes to Abigail’s dreamworld, her devastation at the loss of her orphanage friends, the moment when she becomes one with a gun and, above all, her suspicion of all around her, even her protective brother. To see the human consequences of war through a child’s eyes is always devastating as long as it’s written well, and this is.
The ending threatens to sully the rest of the story (spoiler! did we really need to see them all happy in heaven?) but luckily the rest stands on its own well enough that it doesn’t matter. Also, the writing can sometimes be rather simplistic, but it always flows nicely and is certainly easy to read.
As a whole, Cargill has a success with Saying Goodbye To Warsaw, painting an appropriately harrowing picture of this infamous ghetto and making the reader feel emotionally invested in the plight of Abigail’s family as well as all those around them.