Tuesday 13 February 2018

The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford @elisabeth04liz @CorvusBooks @AtlanticBooks

 'You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.'
Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha's mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day...Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness. Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. 

The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford was published in trade paperback by Corvus Books on 1 February 2018.  My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

I have read and reviewed both of Elisabeth Gifford's previous novels here on Random Things: Secrets of the Sea House (July 2013) and Return To Fourwinds (October 2014).  Whilst I enjoyed both of those books very much, there is something very special about The Good Doctor of Warsaw.  It is clear that this author has a strong emotional tie to the subject matter, and indeed, when you read the Author's Notes at the back of the novel it is clear that the story of Dr Janusz Korczak has occupied her thoughts for many years.

Based on true accounts of the lead characters, Misha and Sophie and on the life of one of Poland's greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak, this book evoked so many emotions in me. I was humbled, enraged, broken hearted and truly caught up in this fascinating and compelling tale.

All of us know about the terrible events that happened in Poland during the Second World War, yet I had never heard of Janusz Korczak and I knew little about the ghetto of Warsaw. Elisabeth Gifford brings the past to life, with incredible writing and superb character creation and the sense of place created will transport the reader right into the heart of the battered city of Warsaw amongst the poverty and fear of the inhabitants of the ghetto.

At it's heart, The Good Doctor of Warsaw is a love story. It details the extraordinary relationship between Misha and Sophie, from their humble beginnings before the war, working with Dr Korczak, caring for the orphaned children of Warsaw. Through their terrifying and heartbreaking experiences during the war years, and how their love endured throughout some of the most horrific and terrible events known to man.

It is not for me to re-tell the story of The Good Doctor of Warsaw as this very accomplished and talented author has done it perfectly. All I can do is urge people to read this book, and learn how 900,000 people perished at Treblinka in just fourteen months. How only one per cent of the population of the ghetto survived to the end of the war, and how the courage and dedication Dr Korczak and his colleagues have made such a lasting impression.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is an absolute triumph. It is so powerful, so distressing, yet humbling and really quite beautifully written. Highly recommended.

Elisabeth Gifford studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. 
She worked as a dyslexia specialist for several years while raising a family. 
After studying for a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College she was asked to write The House of Hope, a biography of Dr Joyce Hill who opened a rescue centre for abandoned babies in China, published by Monarch Press. 
She was taken on by literary agent Jenny Hewson and three historical novels followed,  published by Corvus. Secrets of the Sea House is set in the Hebrides and is a dark mystery that explores at the very real events behind the frequent mermaid sightings reported in Scotland  a century ago. Return to Fourwinds is a sweeping family saga set between England and Spain between the wars. 
The Good Doctor of Warsaw is the shocking and ultimately inspiring true story of some of the rare survivors of the Warsaw ghetto during WW2, and features the inspiring story of Dr Janusz Korczak who defied the Nazi brutality by creating an oasis of kindness and happiness for children. A sort of Polish-Jewish Dr Barnardo, Dr Korczak helped draft the first international children's bill of rights and his teaching on how to raise children with love and respect  is still widely followed today, and where it is, it makes children's lives happier.

For more information visit www.elisabethgifford.com
Follow her on Twitter @elisabeth04liz


  1. This story sounds amazing Anne, I'm off to buy. We watched The Zookeepers Wife recently and this deeply moved me. Reading your review I can already sense the emotions the reality of life will evoke in me.

  2. This sounds amazing. So many unknown stories from WW2 of people making a difference in a small or big way. As you say, humbling.