When We Fall by Carolyn Kirby #BookReview #BlogTour

England, 1943. Lost in fog, pilot Vee Katchatourian is forced to make an emergency landing where she meets enigmatic RAF airman Stefan Bergel, and then can’t get him out of her mind.

In occupied Poland, Ewa Hartman hosts German officers in her father’s guest house, while secretly gathering intelligence for the Polish resistance. Mourning her lover, Stefan, who was captured by the Soviets at the start of the war, Ewa is shocked to see him on the street one day.

Haunted by a terrible choice he made in captivity, Stefan asks Vee and Ewa to help him expose one of the darkest secrets of the war. But it is not clear where everyone’s loyalties lie until they are tested...

Published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day and based on WWII war atrocity the Katyn Massacre, When We Fall is a moving story of three lives forever altered by one fatal choice.

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for When We Fall today. Many thanks to Carolyn Kirby, No Exit Press and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

The Katyn Massacre in 1940 was a series of mass executions of Polish military officers carried out by the Soviet Union and it shapes the background story of  the sombre, poignant When We Fall. The brief prologue features a BBC news report of the real-life air crash in April 2010 which killed the 96 Polish passengers on board who were headed to a ceremony to mark the 70 years since the massacre and as an elderly woman listens to the news, she is reminded of her past, which segues into the main storyline set in 1943.
The dual narrative follows two women; Vee Katchatourian, a British woman of Albanian descent and Ewa Hartman, a young woman from occupied Poland whose German ethnicity has allowed her and her father to be registered as Volksdeutsche. It's a privileged position in a city where the homes of ethnic Poles  are being confiscated to house the incoming Bessarabians who have been resettled by Nazi Germany. Ewa helps her father to run his guest house for German officers but is also secretly gathering intelligence for the Polish resistance. Her complicated double life means she has to speak German most of the time and is known by the Germanised form of her name - Eva. 
Identity and belonging are important themes in the book and Vee's position as a British female pilot with a foreign name reflects this too. When she meets Stefan, however, her world is turned upside down and as she begins to fall for him, she is torn between wanting more and fearing her emotions. She is clearly held back by her gender, class and name as well as her propensity for risk-taking, yet this  determined and courageous young woman honours the real-life  Air Traffic Auxiliary female pilots in WW2. 
Stefan is the link between Ewa and Vee but although it is a choice he made which ultimately alters the course of all their lives, he is not really the focus of the story and it's the two women who are the most engaging characters. One of the things I loved most about Carolyn Kirby's previous book, The Conviction of Cora Burns was that she allows her characters to be unlikeable at times and the same is true here, particularly with regards to Ewa. Her conflicting feelings for Stefan and Heinrich Beck, a German SS officer who stays in her father's guest house puts her in an almost impossible situation and although her bravery cannot be doubted - especially in some deeply distressing scenes later in the book - there are moments where she barely seems to acknowledge the advantages she holds over some of her fellow citizens. Despite their flaws, I was able to sympathise with the difficult predicaments of all the main characters and it's to the author's great credit that even a man who would perhaps ordinarily be dismissed as being on the wrong side is given permission to be rather more complex here.
When We Fall isn't an easy read and it's heartbreaking to learn of the circumstances behind and culminating from the harrowing decisions people either chose or were compelled to make - often at the expense of  others. This beautifully written, thoughtful exploration of love, loyalty and forgiveness is also an important reminder of a terrible massacre, the truth of which was suppressed for too long by both the Soviet Union and governments in the West. I was gripped throughout and couldn't put this insightful, compassionate book down. Highly recommended.

When We Fall is published by No Exit Press, purchasing links can be found here, please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Carolyn Kirby's debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns was begun on a writing course at Faber Academy and went on to win the Bluepencilagency Award for unpublished novels. Published in March 2019 by No Exit Press the UK and Dzanc Books in North America, the novel has been longlisted for the Historical Writers' Association Debut Crown Award and has been getting praise from reviewers and journalists. The Sunday Mirror called it; 'A great historical novel with bite,' while it was chosen by The Times as an historical fiction book of the month.

Before being a full-time writer, Carolyn worked in social housing and as a teacher. She has two grown-up daughters and lives with her husband in Oxfordshire.


  1. Huge thanks for this blog tour support Karen xx


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