Where Children Run

Non-Fiction - Drama
418 Pages
Reviewed on 07/04/2016
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Karen Emilson was born and raised in southern Ontario, the daughter of Irish immigrants on her mother’s side; and an eclectic mix of Swiss, German and English on her father’s side. She spent all her free time as a child reading books and writing stories, dreaming one day of becoming a writer.

In 1982 she came to Manitoba as a young bride, settling in at the Nordheim farm in Siglunes. Karen spent little time in the hayfield or on the lake, but instead worked as a rural newspaper reporter and wrote stories, publishing the Canadian Bestseller, Where Children Run in 1996 and its sequel When Memories Remain in 2001. For years she worked for the Manitoba Beef Producers Association, typeset the Icelandic Connection Magazine, and spent time as a consultant with Logberg-Heimskringla.

When Lake Manitoba overflowed its banks in 2011, flooding out the farmland at Siglunes, she was inspired to finish a story started 10 years earlier about the immigrants who carved out a living there. She can’t sing, dance, draw or play an instrument but lives in awe of those who do. Now she lives in Grunthal, Manitoba and writes full time. Be Still the Water is her first novel.

    Book Review

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.

Maria Beltran

Karen Emilson’s Where Children Run constitutes a series of mental and physical abuse that seemingly has no end. Twins David and Dennis Pischke lose their father at a tender age and when Caroline, their mother, starts a relationship with the unstable Boleslaw Domko, their lives become a living hell. It is June 1953 and six-year-old Eunice is trying to soothe three-year-old Rosalie as their stepfather goes on a rampage at home. David and Dennis, together with the rest of the siblings, Norman, Walter and Steven, cower in fear. And when their infant half-sister Kathy starts crying, it drives her father so mad that he throws her against the wall. What follows is a poignant true story of a childhood so appalling that one wonders what will become of all these helpless, innocent children?

Despite the backdrop of violence and terror, this farm, west of Moosehorn, Manitoba becomes a place we do not want to leave. Where Children Run is a true story that puts a spotlight on spousal and child abuse and although we do not long to be in the company of Boleslaw Domko when he becomes violent, which is often, author Karen Emilson somehow makes the bleakest of situations into a beacon of hope. And this is with a brand of story-telling that is simple and factual without consciously playing on the reader’s emotions. And later, when we reflect on the lives of David and Dennis, after experiencing with them their twelve-year ordeal, we do not have to mourn because theirs is a story that reminds us that in the midst of the deepest despair, all is still not lost.

Ray Simmons

I don’t think there is anything sadder than the story of abused children. That’s saying a lot because there are so many sad stories in this world. When people can live through abuse and turn that misery into something that helps and inspires others, it is a powerful thing. Where Children Run by Karen Emilson is a powerful testament to the human spirit. I liked Where Children Run. It is very beautifully written and it really rang true. It is a Canadian story, but I imagine this kind of home horror has occurred in America and every other country in the world so many times that it would make you weep to think about it too much.

The setting is a part of Canada I have never visited so I can’t really vouch for whether or not Karen Emilson got it right, but it certainly sounds like it. The dialogue is peppered with dialect and speech patterns that are easy enough to read and follow. I’m guessing they are spot on. Where Children Run is character and family driven. We see David, Lynne, Dennis, and all the others very clearly and, if you are like me, they will remind you of people you know. In a way it is the history of a family and, as such, there is no contrived and convoluted plot, just sad old real life. Trust me, it is exciting enough. We get to fall in love with these characters and there is even an epilogue letting us know how things turn out for most of them. I think this story had to be told. Lucky for us, it was told well.


I am writing a book, based on my childhood in group homes, foster homes, residential day school and being homeless as a teen in Winnipeg and the countless abuses I suffered, I was inspired by their story but shocked the RCMP would further add to their abuse in later years! with no apology and indirectly causing the death of one of the brothers, o mg...how sick and sad. At least they got some peace for awhile.