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21 June 2011

The Katyn Order, by Douglas W. Jacobson

World War II has always been a fascinating subject for me to read, whether fiction or non-fiction. I'm extremely interested by this period in history, so when an email comes into my inbox requesting my review of historical fiction that takes place primarily in Poland, it grabs me immediately. I only wish I could have read it much sooner than I did.

Douglas W. Jacobson has crafted an intense and thoroughly engaging novel about Adam, an American assassin and Natalia, an undercover Polish agent fighting the Nazis, two people who have lost their families because of the war and are now fully entrenched in the battle. Together they try to locate a horrifying 1940 Soviet order authorizing the murders of Polish Army officers and civilians. This massacre did take place and when I researched even more about it, I was dumbfounded by yet another moment in history I never learned until now.

The History I Should Know More About
The Katyn Order was a mass execution carried out by the Soviet NKVD. Approved by Joseph Stalin, Polish officers were murdered in the Katyn forest in Russia in 1940 and the number of victims is a staggering amount at approximately 22,000. (ref: Wikipedia)

Monument in Katowice, Poland
It's books like this that make me grateful for, well, books. Invariably there is always something that is new for me, and an event like this is one that we cannot forget. To do so, yet again does a disservice to the victims and their families, families who waited in vain for their loved ones to come home, never knowing that they had been mercilessly slaughtered.

Adam and Natalia were characters I immediately liked, along with a young teenager nicknamed Rabbit, a skillful messenger and a general jack-of-all-trades, who particularly stuck with me. Reading about history can sometimes be a dry experience, but with Jacobson's knowledgeable and masterful storytelling, The Katyn Order instead becomes an absorbing and suspenseful ride through the end of World War II. It's a thoughtful exposé of the truths surrounding this event, while at the same time positioning a fictional story as its primary driver, which keeps the reader excited to continue reading and learning at the same time. It's this device that makes it difficult to put the book down, and The Katyn Order provided me with that same result - once I picked it up, I couldn't stop reading. When I had to put it down, I continued to think about the story, the brutality of war, particularly World War II, and the graphic moments that were included successfully served to provide me with just enough insight into the experiences that Adam and Natalia went through together and separately. The barbaric execution of Polish officers still makes me speechless with the intense sense of mournfulness of the act.

While there were some moments of the love story between Adam and Natalia that had me shaking my head in disbelief, I had to question myself and ask what I would really do if I was falling in love and war raged around me. Because of this, I couldn't say I would or wouldn't act in the same way that the main characters did, and I'd like to think I'd be smart and run my butt off, far and away from certain death, but...maybe not. Maybe I would be completely overwhelmed with the magnitude of all of the emotions that war would force on me. So maybe I would just have a moment with a mysterious man while I was fighting to save my country and fighting for my people against horrible injustices. Now that I think about it, why not?

This book is available in stores now, published in May 2011. This comes highly recommended from me for those who enjoy historical fiction, particularly World War II.

About the Author
Douglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War II history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the "2008 Outstanding Achievement Award" from the Wisconsin Library Association. Doug writes a monthly column on Poland's contribution during WW2, and has published articles on Belgium's WW2 escape organization, the Comet Line and other European Resistance organizations. Doug's second historical novel, The Katyn Order, which will be released in May 2011 focuses on one of history's most notorious war crimes, the Katyn massacre.

Click here to visit the author on his website.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Pump Up Your Book for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


  1. I would love to read this one. It sounds like a very interesting book. Great review!

  2. I have always been fascinated by the WWII period, too. But this part of history I have never known before. I've got to check this book out.

  3. I am a fan of WWII books as well (perhaps it's because of my grandparents being involved?). Looks good, will have to check it out.

  4. I'm the same, any book about WWII and I'm pretty much all over it! This one sounds like a fascinating read.

  5. Mrs. Q: Book Addict - Thanks! It was a fascinating book and moved quickly!

    playing.librarian - It was a shock to read about this horrible moment in history. Certainly made me do a lot of thinking of "what else do I not know?"

    samstillreading - Oh, definitely if your grandparents were involved, it would be even more fascinating! I bet they have some amazing stories to share.

    Amused - It is, and I hope you do get a chance to read it. Would love to read your thoughts on it!

  6. An event in history that I also hadn't heard of previously. Thanks for the review and the history!

  7. As a teacher of history I did not know about this event. Thank you for the review and now the bookstore is on my list of errands for today so I can pick-up my copy. :)

  8. Andrzej Wajda made a very good movie, Katyn, about the Katyn massacre. It's beautifully made and I'd recommend it highly, though it's rather graphic.

  9. A shame that we have never heard of this event, and I can't beleive it took place at all! So shocking. Wonderful review about a very grim subject. Thanks for the recommendation

  10. Amy - Let me know if you get a chance to read it!

    Beachreader - Isn't it incredible just how much there is out there? Either covered up, barely spoken of, etc., but it's almost overwhelming. Do let me know your thoughts!

    Lisa Hayden Espenschade - I did come across the film when I was researching. I'm debating on whether I can watch it or not - as you mentioned it's graphic, but a beautifully made film honoring those who suffered is important.

    Jenny Girl - Many thanks, and yes, it is a shame, so true. I am still speechless when my mind wanders to this subject. Moving and mortifying.

  11. I had thought that I was totally burnt out on WWII literature, but hearing about this book really makes me eager to dip back into this war again. There was really a lot of components to WWII and every time I think I know them all, I am quickly disabused of that notion! This book sounds like a great read and it's one that I am going to be adding to my list as well. Thanks for the excellent review, Natalie!

  12. Great review - I'm inspired to see if this book is available here. WWII isn't my favourite era but I do like to read about events I haven't heard of before.

  13. Zibilee - I tend to get burned out fairly quickly as well if I read too many of a similar period in history close together, but if I spread it out, I'm normally good to go. And this one is a good one to add to the list!

    Cat - Many thanks! Do let me know if you get a chance to read this one!

  14. Thanks for highlighting such an important book. I hope my library has it.

  15. WWII is not one of my favorite time eras to read about, but this actually sounds like a good book.

  16. BookQuoter - I hope so! Let me know if you read it!

    celawerdblog - WWII is definitely a tough period in history to read about, so I know what you mean. It's always stuck with me, though, so I hope you give this book a chance! Do send me a quick note if you do get a chance to read it!

  17. I'm a WWII book addict as well. I'm adding this one to my list.

    BTW - How are you liking listening to Brava Valentine? I haven't listened to any of her books yet and I'm wondering how enjoyable they are.

  18. Martha @ Hey, I want to read that - Let me know if you read this one. Also, for Brava Valentine, I'm absolutely loving it! But, I've found that Cassandra Campbell is a fantastic narrator, she has not let me down, and I'm a newbie audiobook fan, so I hope it stays consistent!

  19. I read Night of Flames a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. Definitely need to pick this one up.

  20. love the review, and adding this to the wishlist. There's something about World War II literature that just has me hooked... and, I've not read anything "featuring" (sorry, couldn't think of another word!!!) Stalin yet... Thanks!

  21. I did not know any of this! Lovely review. It would b crazy to fall in love while a war is raging around you :)

  22. A great review - thanks for posting this. I learned about Poland during the war in the Zookeeper's Wife but until then knew very little about that area during WWII.

  23. Sounds like a good read. I enjoy books set during WWII so this is one I will plan to add to my list.

  24. I didn't know about this either until about 10 years ago, I was staying with friends in Jersey City, right across the Hudson from lower Manhattan. I came across the most striking memorial right on the waterfront. The power (and violence) of the sculpture really took my breath away. There is a good picture here:


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