Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
As a victim of child abuse myself, I have a pretty thick skin when I read stories similar to my own. But Where Children Run by Karen Emilson shook me to my core with its depiction of violence against children, especially since it is a true story. There were times this tough-skinned reviewer audibly winced and had to put the book down to catch her breath as these young children ran for their lives into the freezing bushes or lakes during Manitoba winters to avoid yet another brutal beating by their Polish stepfather, Boleslaw Domko. The man was, as we learn at the end of the book, schizophrenic, as well as paranoid, selfish, insanely jealous and childish. His wife, Caroline, a Catholic turned Jehovah's Witness, was unable to stand up to him for her children or herself. And compounding her inability to act were the dictates of her religion.
Events are seen primarily through the eyes of the twins, David and Dennis, who suffer the bulk of the horrific abuse at Domko's hands. Why does he hate these children so much? Because they are not his own. His treatment of them is in sharp contrast to how he treats the children Caroline bears him. Mind you, in one of his rages, he even throws his natural baby daughter into a wall. The result is blindness. While he regrets that and treats her with love as she grows, he has no remorse in starving the other children, working them mercilessly from a very young age on their farm, throwing pitchforks and shooting at them with the intention of killing them.
These children are terrorized for over 12 years. How they survive and live to tell the tale through the help of kindly neighbours, a persistent social worker, and eventually through the author, Karen Emilson, is a marvel. But above all it's a testament to the strength of the human spirit, of our instincts for survival. Readers will agonize for the twins and their older and younger siblings; they will be infuriated by the inability of law enforcement to protect the children from Domko; they will be disgusted by religious beliefs that allow such evil abuse to continue because the man is the head of the household; and they will shake their heads in disbelief at how Domko fools other adults into believing that the children are the bad ones in this family and he is only doing his fatherly duties in disciplining them.
Where Children Run by Karen Emilson is eye-opening, revolting, disturbing and, sadly, true. David and Dennis agreed as teens if they survived their ordeals, they would one day tell their story. Where Children Run is their story. But it's unfortunately, the story of thousands of other abused children worldwide. Read it ... if you dare and care.