In R.M. Romero’s debut middle-grade novel, Karolina is a living doll whose king and queen have been overthrown. A strange wind spirits her away from the Land of the Dolls, and she finds herself in Kraków, Poland, in the company of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power and a marked past. The Dollmaker has learned to keep to himself, but Karolina’s courageous and compassionate manner lead him to smile and even to befriend a violin-playing father and his daughter—that is, once the Dollmaker gets over the shock of realizing a doll is speaking to him. But their newfound happiness is dashed when Nazi soldiers descend upon Poland. Karolina and the Dollmaker quickly realize that their Jewish friends are in grave danger, and they are determined to help save them, no matter the risks. Lilith’s fiction editor Yona Zeldis McDonough talked with Romero via email about what drew her to this topic, and about the challenges of blending fantasy with fact.
YZM: What inspired you to write this novel?
RMR: When I was 18, I traveled to Kraków, Poland, and visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. I fell in love with Kraków, a city that fell like it had come from a fairy tale, and what I saw at Auschwitz haunted me for many years afterward. Almost a decade after that original visit, I wrote a conversation between doll who had been brought to life and the man who made her. I soon realized that this scene took place in Kraków, and the story evolved from there!