Despite having finished the BBC Top 100 a matter of months ago – a challenge I set myself with the sole purpose to expand my reading repertoire – I have since reverted to my reading ways of old; indulging in long-forgotten favourites I haven’t have the time to read until recently, re-reading best-loved books from days gone by; opting for reads I’ve been recommended, by authors I know, with covers I recognise.
And so it was, that until I signed up for Liam Pieper’s memoir writing workshop at Byron Writers’ Festival I was yet to come across his debut novel The Toy Maker. The workshop took place one bleak and blustery afternoon in Byron, and as I always do when leaving such workshops, I felt invigorated and inspired to start my own writing journey again, before opting to prioritise reading over writing for what must be the umpteenth time. I spent a week in Hawaii, during which time I read a couple of memoirs, and on my return decided to give The Toy Maker a go, more out of intrigue and obligation than anything else.
Set between contemporary Melbourne, and Auschwitz in 1944, were in not for my literary sojourn to Byron, suffice to say it’s not a book I would have picked up. But – as was the joy of discovering so very many authors I otherwise wouldn’t have when working my way through the BBC Top 100 – any preconceived notions I had about it not being a book I wouldn’t usually enjoy were quickly dispelled the minute I started reading it.
We meet central – and immensely dislikable – protagonist Adam Kulakov, who owns a toy company in Melbourne, providing him with enough money to do with what he wants; however corrupt, immoral or illegal. Offering a kindly contrast is his grandfather, Arkady, who, when imprisoned in Auschwitz under the rule of Hitler was given an impossible choice; one that continues to haunt him as he nears the end of his life. The tale follows both men as mistakes are made, secrets are set free and the integrity of both is bought into question by those they hold dear.
Compelling, seedy, bold and brilliant, I was enthralled from the get-go and found myself torn between wanting to savour every last page, and wanting to reach the novel’s climatic end. Such stories as The Toy Maker, much like many I read from the BBC Top 100, further prove the importance of reading outside your comfort zone, to find the treasures that lay therein.