A window into a little-known history

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“After ‘liberation,’ what happened to the millions of Eastern Europeans– many of them children, some as young as ten– who were taken by the Germans for use as a massive slave labor force in German factories and on German farms? How many of them managed to make it back home to Russia, to Belarus, to Poland, to Ukraine, and reunite with their families? How many of them managed to make it back home only to find that home and family were no longer there?”
~Author’s Note, The Silent Unseen

My favorite niche of historical fiction is stories about lesser known historical events and individuals (like Ruta Sepetys’s novels), so I was looking forward to The Silent Unseen.

I think that one of this book’s strongest points is its theme. The author continuously reminds us by way of the story that war is never as black and white as the history books make it seem. It’s not just "this side" against "that side" because each “side” is made up of actual people with complex lives, loving family and friends, and their own morals and a conscience. McCrina does a wonderful job of breathing life into these characters and historical events that unfortunately often go widely unnoticed.

The writing style was also another highlight. It was a fast and easy read, and I thought the author also did a good job of clearly explaining the various military forces at play.

However, in the end I liked but didn’t love this book. I think one of the main issues was that it was lacking tension. I didn’t feel the suspense as I was reading, though the characters were put in some risky situations. Maybe certain scenes needed to be further elaborated, or maybe I didn’t feel connected enough with the characters, but whatever the reason, I didn’t feel that need to keep turning pages. The pacing still moved along quickly enough, but the suspense was lacking.

The other issue I had was the romance. It’s definitely not the focus of the story, and I felt that it was such a small part of the book that it just shouldn’t have been there at all. Of course I could see the growing trust and perhaps even friendship forming between Maria and Kostya as a result of their shared traumatic circumstances, but the romance felt very forced. I think the book would have been better off if the author had left Maria and Kostya as just friends.

Overall, I liked the book and felt it gave me unique insight into this period in history, but it had a few issues that affected my opinion.