The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

The Good Doctor of Warsaw

It’s a quarter of a century since I visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam when I first really began to understand the plight of Jewish people during the Second World War. When I was offered The Good Doctor of Warsaw, a book based on the lives of those in Warsaw, by Elisabeth Gifford, in exchange for an honest review I readily accepted. I had previously featured Elisabeth with a fabulous guest post alongside my review of another of her books, Secrets of the Sea House, that you can read here.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is published by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books and is available for purchase through these links.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw

The Good Doctor of Warsaw

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…

Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

My Review of The Good Doctor of Warsaw

Life for the Jewish population of Warsaw is about to be completely extirpated.

The Good Doctor of Warsaw is an exceptional book that should be lauded from the rooftops. It is terrifying. It is emotional. It is beautifully written. However, what is so profoundly affecting is that it is based on real events and real people and this makes it all the more powerful. I found the photographs in the end papers of my copy so captivating. Half the time I was reading I could hardly bear to go on and yet I was compelled to. I could not tear myself away from Dr Korczak, Misha and Sophia because Elisabeth Gifford brought them to life so effectively it was as if they were my own friends, my own family.

Actually, I’m feeling rather stunned by reading The Good Doctor of Warsaw. Yes, I knew about the Nazi atrocities in Poland and elsewhere on an intellectual level, but reading this book has made me experience them in a visceral way. I feel an overwhelming sense of grief and horror at man’s inhumanity to man because Elisabeth Gifford takes the reader right into the heart of Warsaw’s ghetto. That’s not to say she sensationalises events, but rather presents what happens through the lives of those affected so clearly that it is impossible not to be affected by her words. Often the most awful of occurences are presented with a pared down prose that makes them all the more shocking. Even more terrifying is the fact the story is written in the continuous present tense, underlying the abhorrent possibility, and even probability, that events like those in The Good Doctor of Warsaw are still happening today.

However, The Good Doctor of Warsaw is not a self-consciously ‘worthy’ book as I might seem to be suggesting. It is a fabulous narrative that weaves real history and imagined scenes so that reading it is an immersive and life-changing experience. This is wonderful story-telling as well as fabulous history. So much of the book is almost cinematic in style and I’d love it to be made into a film because the intrinsic quality of the writing is so good and its story so important I believe it would bring it to a wider audience.

Underneath all the horrors, the deprivations and the brutality of the era, Elisabeth Gifford manages to weave humanity, truth and love so that whilst I am heart-broken by reading The Good Doctor of Warsaw, I am also inspired and stirred by positivity. There is profound love in so many of the actions, and particularly from Dr Janusz Korczak, that we can all take courage and warmth from reading this story. Reading it has made me glad to be who I am, living where I am, when I am.

I defy anyone reading The Good Doctor of Warsaw not to be moved, shattered and, ultimately, thankful. It is a remarkable book.

About Elisabeth Gifford


Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has written articles for The Times and the Independent and has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College. She is married with three children. They live in Kingston on Thames but spend as much time as possible in the Hebrides.

You can find Elisabeth on Facebook, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @elisabeth04Liz.

32 thoughts on “The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

  1. Thanks for calling by and commenting Karen. This book is such a moving tribute to those who suffered so much. It must have been unimaginable to have lived through it all.


  2. Great review. I had a similar response to the book when I read it earlier those year. I wrote in my review: ‘At times, the events in the book are almost unbearably distressing to read but then the book should be uncomfortable reading because it bears witness to one of the greatest atrocities of the Second World War. I praise the author for shining a light on this story of, yes, cruelty and barbarism, but also of courage, resilience and hope.’

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Perfectly put Cathy. Such an important book I think. I’ll head over and read your review later as I avoid reviews before I’ve read and reviewed a book so that I am not influenced!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. After reading so many great reviews on this book I had to purchase, it’s still waiting for me to read but I think it’s a story that needs to be savoured and cherished. Another great review Linda.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for an inspiring review, Linda. Secrets of the Sea House Inspired me to become a regular visitor to the Outer Hebrides (and write my own novel set there). I know that Elisabeth Gifford has such a talent for bringing a place to life and maybe that’s why I’ve held off reading this book. But, I’m going in there next week…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I also didn’t know much about the plight of the Polish people during WWII until I read Christoph Fischer’s book Ludwika. It had a big impact on me. Even the book I have written with my Mom about her life as a small girl growing up in an English village during WWII had deeply affected me. It is so close to home. I will have to steel myself and read this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I live in an area where there is a huge Polish community and had a good idea about them in WW2, but this book really brings home what they suffered. You must read it Robbie as I know you’ll appreciate it. Thanks for commenting.

    Liked by 1 person

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