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Fiction World War Ii

The Orphan Girl

A WWII Novel of Courage Found and a Promise Kept

by (author) Kurt Palka

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Jul 2022
World War II, Friendship, Contemporary Women
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2022
    List Price

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For fans of Kristin Harmel and Martha Hall Kelly's Lilac Girls -- the bestselling author of The Piano Maker returns with a vivid, atmospheric, and deeply moving novel set during the final months of WWII.

London, 1944/45
Kate Henderson is an energetic and spirited young woman. As a trained paramedic and ambulance driver she does her work courageously and with determination, even though underneath she is still wrestling with grief after witnessing the shooting death of her diplomat father seven years earlier. Her father’s murder was never properly investigated and it remains unsolved.
Kate’s life is interrupted once more when she wakes up one night to the sound of the air raid alarm and the terror whistles of a bomb’s stabilizers screaming toward the roof of her house. Kate survives, but she is injured.
Her house is gone as well, and after her time in the hospital, Claire Giroux, a kind doctor and family friend, invites Kate to live with her as she recuperates. This arrangement works well for them until a few months later when Claire’s husband comes home from the war. Within days the lives of both women are drastically altered, and events are set in motion, both in England and in Canada, that challenge Kate and Claire to their limits.
The Orphan Girl is a moving and powerful story about friendship and courage, and about promises made and kept.

About the author

Contributor Notes

The Orphan Girl is KURT PALKA’s eighth novel, following the bestsellers The Piano Maker and The Hour of the Fox. His previous book, Clara (Patient Number 7, in hardcover) was shortlisted for the Hammett Prize. His work has been translated into eight languages. He lives near Toronto.


Excerpt: The Orphan Girl: A WWII Novel of Courage Found and a Promise Kept (by (author) Kurt Palka)

In the night she stood at the kitchen window at the back of Claire’s house and in the dark saw her own reflection; the gauze taped over the injury on her cheek and a glimmer in her eyes when she moved her head. Far away she could see the moon reflected in a silver track on the Talbot River. A difficult night. She should have stayed in bed, but it wouldn’t let her. She knew what it was and she shouldn’t have let it in, but tonight once again she couldn’t keep it out.

“And you?” David had said to her the last time she saw him. “Can I ask how you’re doing with it. With Trevor?”

He never called him her dad or her father, always just by his name.

“I’m doing all right.”

“Got to the bottom of it yet?”

“There’s a bottom?”

“Very deep down. You’d probably drown getting to it. But I think you found a way to swim to shore, and the water has gotten shallow and now you can walk. Keep on walking, Kate. I think you’re almost on dry land. He’s gone, you know.”

“I know that. Most of the time. In my head.”

But not tonight; a tidal night dragging her back into the deep. The silver track on the river was the trundle path and she was the girl of that day and she was walking the path with her father. As they often did. He had just said something to her about another war shaping up in Europe, and that he was being sent once more to Germany on a diplomatic mission to gauge the situation first-hand and then to report back, when she heard footsteps behind them. A moment later two men in long coats and hats passed them on either side, as if encircling them, and when the men were a dozen paces ahead, they both turned and one of them took his hand from his coat pocket and raised a handgun and fired twice. And immediately the men hunched their shoulders and hurried away.

Her father had fallen down, and in shock and disbelief she knelt by his side. She could see it so clearly again, the blood pulsing from his chest while she tried to keep it in with her flat hand, but there was blood flowing also from his mouth and nose and she tried to stop it with her other hand. Then she realized that he couldn’t breathe and she turned him on his side and turned his face downward for the blood to flow and clear his airways, but it didn’t help. She cried for help as loud as she could, screamed and wept for it in horror and disbelief.

The two men were gone from sight and she was alone with her dad dying. He tried to say something and she put her ear to his mouth but heard only his blood. She stood up and screamed again for help, waved her arms and knelt down and raised his head and held it in her lap, and this would forever be her last image of him, his head in her lap as he lay dying.
Eventually a man and a woman came along the path and saw them. The woman talked to her and held her, trying to calm her while the man went to fetch the police.
The policeman asked questions and wrote down her answers. An ambulance came and two men took her dad away. There was blood on the hard soil of the path and in her shocked state she thought they should take that as well, because they’d have to get it back into him. She called to them and pointed at the blood, and they looked at her strangely.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Kurt Palka and The Hour of the Fox
“Elegantly-written and utterly compelling from start to finish, this is an exquisite outing.” —Toronto Star
Praise for Kurt Palka and The Piano Maker

“Deeply engrossing and unforgettable . . . will leave readers shouting ‘bravo’ for the resiliency of the human spirit.” —Publishers Weekly
“Beautifully crafted, suspenseful, and rich in the historical detail Palka’s readers know and love him for, this is the perfect book to get snowed in with.” —Toronto Star
The Piano Maker traces a woman's journey from loss to redemption. Kurt Palka is a sensitive and compelling writer.” —Eva Stachniak, author of The Chosen Maiden
“A writer of immense control, compassion, and a soaring imagination, Kurt Palka possesses a profound understanding of the human spirit.” —Linda Holeman, author of The Devil On Her Tongue
“A treat to be savoured. The prose is clear and understated, the atmosphere of small town Nova Scotia beautifully captured. . . . The writing sparkles with suspense as the tale unfurls and the past sneaks up behind Helene Giroux.” —Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice
“The novel, spare, taut, and written in an engaging style reminiscent of such bestsellers as Tracy Chevalier's Girl with the Pearl Earring and The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay, The Piano Maker is an unexpected treat.” —London Free Press

Praise for Kurt Palka and Clara

“Palka’s book contains wisdom and elegance.” —Toronto Star
“[An] understated and compassionate historical novel.” —Winnipeg Free Press

Other titles by Kurt Palka