Orphan Train

Orphan #8

by Kim van Alkemade

Overview: A stunning debut novel in the vein of Sarah Waters' historical fiction and inspired by true events, it tells the fascinating story of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when she encounters the doctor who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments in a New York City Jewish orphanage. In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family ina crowded tenement on New York City's Lower Eastside. When tragedy strikes, Rachel is separated from her brother Sam and sent to a Jewish orphanage where Dr. Mildred Solomon is conducting medical research. Subjected to X-ray treatments that leave her disfigured, Rachel suffers years of cruel harassment from the other orphans. But when she turns fifteen, she runs away to Colorado hoping to find the brother she lost and discovers a family she never knew she had. Though Rachel believes she's shut out her painful childhood memories, years later she is confronted with her dark past when she becomes a nurse at Manhattan's Old Hebrews Home and her patient is none other than the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon. Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge, and pay for, her wrongdoing. But each passing hour Rachel spends with the old doctor reveal to Rachel the complexities of her own nature. She realizes that a person's fate-to be one who inflicts harm or one who heals-is not always set in stone. Lush in historical detail, rich in atmosphere and based on true events, Orphan #8 is a powerful, affecting novel of the unexpected choices we are compelled to make that can shape our destinies.

Debbie Weiss (09/08/16): I really liked this book a lot, as it was written very well and had an extremely interesting storyline. Both Gail and Judy have already explained about Rachel, the young girl who was sent to the Home for Hebrew Infants at 4 years of age after her mother died and her father went away. As I read about how she was used as "material" for medical experiments, I became really upset. While Rachel is a fictional character, the story is based on fact. This really occurred, bringing comparisons to the experiments performed in the concentration camps. How disheartening!

Years later when Rachel reached adulthood and was now the nurse for Dr. Solomon (the doctor who had performed the experiments on her as a child) in an old-age home, the roles are reversed and she now is the one in control. What will she do? It was so very interesting to listen in on her thoughts. Rachel was quite an exceptional individual!
Rating: *****

Judy Stanton (08/19/16): Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so it's not surprising that I really enjoyed Orphan #8. Long before reading the epilogue, the book led me to the internet to find out if there really was a Orphaned Hebrews Home and Home for Hebrew Infants, where doctors used little ones as "material" for medical research. Even if they didn't understand in the early 1900s what damage would result from overexposure to radiation, the lack of empathy for these children who lost their parents and were separated from their siblings was unbelievably harsh to me. And, as if it wasn't enough of a challenge for the central character, Rachel Rabinowitz, to suffer through her mother's death, her father's abandonment, and medical experimentation that caused her to lose all her hair forever, the author also made her a lesbian, in an era when homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder that required treatment. It's no wonder that Rachel suffered from loneliness and a lack of self-confidence. Yet, even with all her issues, Rachel does find people on her journey through life who give her love, support, encouragement and friendship. A very interesting, well written book. 5-
Rating: *****-

Gail Reid (08/12/16): I liked Orphan Number 8, by Kim van Alkemade, an intriguing book that centers around an ethical dilemma. Rachel Rabinowitz was raised in a Jewish orphanage in New York, sometime after World War I, where she and other children were subjected to medical experiments that would turn out to have significant consequences. When Rachel grows up, becomes a nurse and encounters the doctor from the orphanage, the situation is reversed and the terminally ill doctor is now Rachel's patient. What information Rachel demands from the dying Dr. Mildred Solomon, the doctor's defense of her work and the treatment Rachel provides are issues that are worthy of our attention.

What transpires is a multi-tiered story of one person's account of growing up without family, of hiding and dealing with sexual differences a hundred years ago and exploring issues of mercy and revenge.

I would definitely recommend this book with a shout out to book groups --- great topics for discussion.
Rating: ****

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