The Toymaker book review

The Toymaker book review

What is this story about: Survival. It comes in different forms for Adam (scandal), Arkady (Nazi death camps), and Tess (who really, has to survive Adam and his ego).

What else is this about?: Part of Arkady’s POV includes his time in the Nazi death camps, which is stark and brutal and hard to read. But, his past made him the man he is today, and without them he doesn’t make sense.

Should you read: Yes. Absolutely yes.

Stars: 5

Blurb: Hugely memorable, The Toymaker is an unflinching examination of the dark instinct for survival that lies in all of us.’ Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites.

Adam Kulakov likes his life. He’s on the right side of middle age; the toy company he owns brightens the lives of children around the world; and he has more money than he can ever spend, a wife and child he adores, and as many mistresses as he can reasonably hide from them.

And he is not the only one with secrets. In 1944, Adam’s grandfather, Arkady, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and given an impossible choice. Now, as he’s coming to the end of his life, he has to keep the truth from his family, and hold back the crushing memories of his time with one of history’s greatest monsters.

As a mistake threatens to bring Adam’s world tumbling down around him, the past reaches for Arkady. Everything he’s spent a lifetime building will be threatened, as will everything Adam and his family think they know of the world.

Bold, dark and compelling, The Toymaker is a novel about privilege, fear and the great harm we can do when we are afraid of losing what we hold dear.  

‘His writing is electric’ Weekend Australian

‘Pieper is a sharp, smart and classy writer’ Saturday Paper

The quote from Hannah Kent above encapsulates what this book is about: survival, whether it is a Nazi death camp, a mistake borne out of ego or a crumbling marriage and public humiliation.

This is the story of Arkady Kulakov, his grandson Adam, and Tess, Adam’s wife. It’s the story about each’s will to survive the events in the book that threaten them and their lives. And, they’re the only family that matter to each other and readers, save for Kade, Tess and Adam’s son.

It’s Adam’s mistake that begins this tale – he is a man who expects to get what he wants, never thinking about the consequences. There’s very little about him that is actually decent, besides his love for his grandfather, in the fleeting moments it appears. It’s as if Arkady’s goodness rubs off on him and makes him more palatable in those moments, until his true nature reasserts itself.  Adam is removed from Tess and Arkady in this story, wrapped up in manipulating everyone around him to correct his mistakes and save his reputation. And all the while, the grandfather he loves, is in hospital dying.

Arkady is the grandfather any reader would love. Gregarious and adoring of Adam, Kade and Tess, he’s the type of guy that will get on with anyone.  He and Tess have a close bond, the both of them building their relationship when Tess first started doing the books for the company. Tess adores him, values him and his expertise, and it is she who is around for him when his dementia results in a hospitalisation and the realisation that he is dying. Most probably, according to the doctors, from his time in the camps. Theirs is relationship that has heart, and will break yours when you read it.

Tess’ story is hard to discern, for in the beginning I was sure that the story’s focus was Adam and Arkady, more than anything, and her story was to be Arkady’s confidant and Adam’s long-suffering wife. But, she’s much more than that; the book simply builds her story differently, leaving it simmering in the background until the right time. There’s something elegant about her storyline, about the way it’s built until it’s ready to be revealed.

While Adam and Tess’ stories are set in the future, Arkday’s is revealed bit by bit through his time before the war, his relationships and his time in the camps, most importantly how he survived. Pieper walks a fine line with Arkady, managing to evoke sympathy for someone who seemed at times to be a monster, who would do anything to survive. Pieper’s writing is stark, painful at times but never hiding the truth of Arkady – as I mentioned above, the death camps made Arkady who he is.

Twists are the name of the game these days, and the bigger and better they are, the more likely they are to be mentioned in blurbs and publishing materials these days. After reading this book, I was reminded how twists can pale in comparison to writing that’s just that good, heartbreaking and you feel like a punch to the gut. That’s what this book is and when the “t” word gets pulled out, ignore it. Read this because you want to be enthralled by human nature, by what humans will do to survive no matter what.

Read this book because nothing in it is what it seems, but the desire humans have to survive.

The Toymaker is out now.


  • Great review!! I do love a twist but completely agree that it can’t make up for good writing — the combination of both is amazing! (Why I highly recommend All the Missing Girls right now!)

    • Verushka says:

      This book Eva, this BOOK is just the BEST. The writing is so good and the characters extremely bloody unlikable at times, but the author has managed to find this line of writing this hard-to-like characters but I can’t deny that I don’t understand why they do what they do. It’s all about the human condition. AND, CHECK. All the missing girls is one for me to read too after reading your review.

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