• Paperback: 416 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 4, 2015)
A stunning debut novel of historical fiction set in the forgotten world of New York City's Jewish orphanages
In 1919, four-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz is placed in the Hebrew Infant Home where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research on the children. Dr. Solomon subjects Rachel to an experimental course of X-ray treatments that establish the doctor's reputation while risking the little girl's health. Now it's 1954, and Rachel is a nurse in the hospice wing of the Old Hebrews Home when elderly Dr. Solomon becomes her patient. Realizing the power she holds over the helpless doctor, Rachel embarks on a dangerous experiment of her own design. Before the night shift ends, Rachel will be forced to choose between forgiveness and revenge.
Inspired by true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful novel about the human capacity to harm—and to love.
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At the age of four Rachel Rabinowitz was placed into the Hebrew Infant Home, an orphanage for Jewish youth. In the Home it is decided that Rachel will be used for medical experiments; orphans make perfect test subjects where everything in their life can be controlled. Headstrong and unyielding, Dr. Mildred Solomon appears at the Home, breaking through a male barrier to the placement that she wanted. Dr. Solomon decides Rachel will be the best subject for her X-Ray experiments. A year after being relentlessly X-rayed, poked and prodded, a now bald and stunted Rachel is sent to the Orphaned Hebrews Home for older children. At the Home, she is ridiculed for her baldness, but finds friends and eventually comes to find her place as a nursing assistant. Thirty-five years later, a grown Rachel works in the Old Hebrews Home, taking care of hospice patients. Her memory is stirred one day when a new patient arrives with a name from her past, Mildred Solomon. Forced to remember the lost details of her cruel past, Rachel decides that it is time for Dr. Solomon to answer for her actions of the past and for setting Rachel’s life on the path the she now must take.
This is an emotionally packed journey that ended up being so much more than just historical fiction. I was intrigued by the Jewish Orphanages, and was surprised about how much the author took straight from history including some of the characters stories and the medical testing done on children. The descriptions of the home were vivid and brought the castle-like structure to life. Told through Rachel’s point of view as a child growing up in the Children’s Home and Rachel as an adult working at the Old Hebrew’s Home, there is a unique experience of seeing Rachel’s past confront her present and seeing the affect that her childhood has had on the actions that she is taking. Most of all though, I was entranced by Rachel and Dr. Solomon’s intertwined stories. These are both fiercely strong women who faced amazing adversity in their lives to get to where they are. At first I thought that this would be a story of revenge and redemption as the tables were turned on the two women; but it is really a story of growth, acceptance and love. In addition to Rachel facing Dr. Solomon, there were many other facets to the story that made it rich in history. Rachel’s sexuality and seeing how lesbians were treated in the 1950’s and her brother Sam’s involvement in the War and liberating a concentration camp added historical context. Overall, Orphan #8 is an intense emotional journey that blends historical fiction, coming of age and suspense.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Kim van Alkemade was born in New York. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, So to Speak, and CutBank. She teaches writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.
Find out more about Kim at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.