Irena's Gift: An epic World War II memoir of sisters, secrets and survival - Karen Kirsten

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If we seal off the past, how will we ever know the truth?

In 1942, in Nazi-occupied Poland, a Jewish child was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto in a backpack. That child was Karen Kirsten’s mother, but she knew nothing about this extraordinary event until one day a letter arrived from a stranger.

After Karen eventually discovered the grandparents she loved dearly were in fact not her biological grandparents, she travelled the globe to uncover her family’s past and to find the answers to baffling questions: why did her adoptive grandmother treat Karen’s mother so unkindly? Why did she hide the truth that she was her mother’s aunt? And why, if she appeared to dislike Karen’s mother, did she risk her life to save her and bring her to Australia?

Irena’s Gift weaves together a mystery, history and memoir to tell the story of a family torn apart by war. From the glittering concert halls of interbellum Warsaw to the vermin-infested prison where a Jewish woman negotiates with an SS officer to save her sister’s child, Irena’s Gift is about the lies we tell to survive and what happens when those lies unravel. It is about the extraordinary resilience of three generations of women, and the sacrifices made for love.


‘Deeply moving and beautifully written . . . Irena’s Gift deserves to become a classic of the memoir genre.’ Lucy Adlington, author of The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The true story of the women who sewed to survive

‘In Irena’s Gift, Karen Kirsten proves yet again that family stories and densities of human affection, when they ran up against that calamity we call the Holocaust, are as individual as fingerprints. News withheld, and what is passed on in doubt and affections, is always dramatic if it can be creatively depicted, and Karen Kirsten more than fulfils that task of narration and enchantment here.’ Tom Keneally

‘An extraordinary story of how secrets and lies can tear a family apart.’ Maya Lee, author of The Nazis Knew My Name

‘This is a story of extraordinary women, survival and sacrifice. A must read.’ Tara Moss, human rights and disability advocate, and author of The War Widow and The Ghosts of Paris

‘This is one of the best second-generation Holocaust books ever published. I loved it and couldn’t put it down.’ Ariana Neumann, author of When Time Stopped

‘Compulsive enough to read in a single sitting, this is ultimately a story of love, healing, hope and humanity that will tug at your heartstrings.’ Sue Smethurst, author of The Freedom Circus



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