From its opening pages The Toymaker chips away at the story of a family’s survival, each masterful stroke undercutting preconceptions to reveal layers of secrets and misdeeds that, slice by slice, peel back to humanity’s greatest crime: the Holocaust.
Adam Kulakov is the destructive, self-involved scion of a successful toy company, Sarah & Mitty – founded by his grandfather Arkady and now almost single-handedly run by Adam’s capable and stoic wife, Tess. Adam tries, and constantly fails, to be more like his urbane Russian grandfather – a witty, bright and resourceful man who weathered the horrors of Auschwitz, married a young Jewish survivor and built a thriving business based on the original dolls, which had been carved to lighten the lives of children in the very darkest of places.
Now his grandson’s risk-taking behaviour – including an affair with an underage schoolgirl – seem poised to tear down everything Arkady has built. But as Tess uncovers a trail of embezzled company funds, and Arkady’s failing health exposes him to the terrors of his past, it seems there may be even darker things to contend with.
Liam Pieper deftly guides readers beyond the carefully constructed narrative of the Kulakov family, through an increasingly disturbing labyrinth of lies, betrayal and the very basest of human impulses. And his scrutiny is far ranging – straying from the grubby peccadillos of a privileged man-child to the dubious ethics of cheap outsourced labour and the impossible dilemma of those forced into the death camps’ notorious Sonderkommando units.
Pieper pulls apart each character until they reveal the stuff of which they are really made. And, in the end, nothing is as it seems. The Toymaker is a clever, haunting read, each well-crafted line drawing the reader inexorably to its final, chilling conclusion.
Liam Pieper is Melbourne-based writer and journalist. His darkly witty memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year, was shortlisted for the National Biography Award and the Ned Kelly Best True Crime award. He has also penned a collection of humorous essays, Mistakes Were Made, published as a Penguin Special. He was co-recipient of the 2014 M Literary Award, winner of the 2015 Geoff Dean Short Story Prize and the inaugural creative resident of the UNESCO City of Literature of Prague. The Toymaker is his first novel.