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Orphan #8: A Novel

Orphan #8: A Novel

4.2 21
by Kim van Alkemade

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In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade 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 years before.

In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her


In this stunning new historical novel inspired by true events, Kim van Alkemade 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 years before.

In 1919, Rachel Rabinowitz is a vivacious four-year-old living with her family in a 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.

Editorial Reviews

Catherine Zobal Dent
“Kim van Alkemade has moxie. In her provocative novel, family is saturated with betrayal, care is interrupted by ambition and desire, and the past is intimately explored, invoking the abandoned child in all of us. Orphan # 8 brims with complicated passions and pitch-perfect historical details. A riveting, memorable debut.”
RT Book Reviews
“Inspired by actual events, van Alkemade crafts a powerful story of festering vengeance and redemption that touches readers on many levels. Alkemade has managed to incorporate many emotions into her thoughtful debut, emotions that linger long after the last page is turned.”
Historical Novels Review
“This book is utterly unputdownable. At once atmospheric, disturbing and absolutely engrossing, it poses a host of moral questions; I fully anticipate that it will become popular with book clubs.”
Lambda Literary Review
“A sure book club pick and a strong debut, this title functions well on multiple levels and will appeal to a broad readership.”
GLBT Reviews
Even non-aficionados of historical fiction will find much to savor in this remarkable novel. Its themes and artistry will linger in reader memory. Orphan #8 is a remarkable work, well rooted in some little-known history... a broad landscape of issues, superbly rendered.
Lillith Magazine
“…van Alkemade succeeds in bringing to light a fascinating and little-known chapter of history...she vividly chronicles her heroine’s pain, resilience and capacity to be honest with those who loved her, with those who betrayed her, and ultimately with herself.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Kim van Alkemade was born in New York. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in literary journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, So to Speak, and CutBank. She teaches writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

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Orphan #8 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. Fascinating storyline and very thought provoking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The description of the book intrigued me. I was further drawn in to find out that it is based on true events which is horrifying but I wanted to know more. I enjoyed most of this book but the ending was a drop-off. There is more you want to know but it just abruptly ends. With that being said, I would still recomend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book very quickly. The story was rivetting. A reader must be prepared for a story to be told in and out of time in snatches. Lesbianism is a string throughout the telling. It was handled with grace, authenticity, and great insight encouraging thoughtfulness in the reader. The story is so much more but a potential reader must be aware of this subtheme. Overall the book is so wellwritten and thoughtful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
However very disappointed in the ending. There was a lot going on in the story and it just ended. Also it's very hard to read of the medical experiments practiced at the orphanage and how the children were treated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didnt care for ending
SarrieJ More than 1 year ago
I so loved this book that within a day and a half I had finished it. I just could not put it down! Excellent storyline followed up by photos that inspired this story. Love it!
LucyVan More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. While it was very hard to read about the pain and suffering this young woman endured at the hands of some very unethical physicians, it remains an inspiring story. Her courage, determination and, in the end, her ability to forgive was very moving. I read this very fast and enjoyed every minute of it. I do wish the author had written one more chapter, however, as the ending just seems to drop you off and leave you wondering what happened to the two main characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and researched, very insightful--- a pleasure to read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very thoughtful boo?.Makes some political statements. Thought provoking
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had Ms. Van Alkemade as a professor in college. She was one of my favorite professors so I had to read the book which I thought was outstanding.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Rachel becomes an orphan in a very tragic way early in the book and from there the book swapped between chapters from her childhood and going forward to adulthood with chapters within her adulthood. I loved how this author formatted the book and although sometimes the flow was hard, each chapter felt like a short story within a bigger story. Rachel was a great character, in that although she had a very hard childhood she didn't use it as an excuse to be a deadbeat adult, but instead she found a fire in herself and wanted to find her own true passion to get her out from under anyone. I loved seeing her childhood and its impacts immediately in the adulthood chapters. This book almost felt like a dual narrative but with Rachel narrating both her past and her present - I loved the intermix of the stories.
feather_lashes More than 1 year ago
Orphan #8 is a standalone, historical fiction novel written by English professor and now author: Kim van Alkemade. This is her first published novel. The synopsis of Orphan #8 immediately intrigued me and as I began the audiobook, I felt engaged right away. The main character: Rachel Rabinowitz is a work of fiction, but her story is based on very real people, places, and events from 1920's America. Orphan #8 follows Rachel through alternating timeframes, first when she is a young child who has been committed to an orphanage and then as an adult who continues to be physically and emotionally haunted by her young life experiences. This setup creates two distinct storylines that alternate as the story progresses. In her book, Ms. Alkemade has layered many important elements for readers to reflect on. The ones I noted include: the treatment of children in social services, the loss of cultural/ spiritual/ familial identity often experienced by children in care, the emotional and social stressors commonly associated with appearing physically different than others, historical views towards women's independence and sexuality, the beautiful sense of connectedness felt among the Jewish people, and the power we all possess to hold blame or let go, to seek retribution or offer forgiveness, to inflict harm or show mercy. I enjoyed Orphan #8 and am so glad I read it. Check it out! Note: Ms. Alkemade spent eight years researching and writing this novel and it appears to be a deeply personal project for her and her family. I read her entire website, amazed at the multiple true stories that inspired the direction of this book. If you end up reading Orphan #8, I highly recommend that you check out Ms. Alkemade's website to gain some insight into how personal this was for her. I like the book even more now because of it. My favorite quote: “To Sam I said, “Sometimes I ask myself if there's any limit to the harm that people can do to each other.” “No”, he said. “There's no limit.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sad, riveting, unusual! This is an eye opening book about medical abuse. The novel includes: unusual friendships, orphans, hard work, determination, complex sibling relationship, forgiveness, questionable medical research, and much much more. This was based on the author's family history. Another excellent novel based on historical facts is The Partisan by William Jarvis. Other excellent historical authors are: Margaret Mayhew, Laurie Graham, Judith Lennos, Eric Larsen, Duncan Barrett, Mary Gibson, Lynn Austin, Sandra Dallas, and Frances Donnelly. This book definitely deserves an A++++++++
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Do you enjoy though-provoking books that have such heart-wrenching plots, such shocking storylines, that it moves you for many days to come? This gripping novel, based on actual, true events, provokes a plethora of deep thoughts and emotions. They are brought to the New York City Hebrew Orphans Home that existed in the early 1900’s. Rachel soon finds herself subjected to alarming medical experiments that leave Rachel scarred for life. The author does not shy away from describing the horrendously cruel experiments that included force feeding, physical restraints, and over exposure to radium through x-rays that left them bald. But Rachel survives and years later, she becomes a nurse. One of her patients, dying of terminal cancer, is the female doctor who subjected her to the medical trials. Now in a position of power over her previous tormenter, Rachel becomes obsessed with revenge. The plot becomes rich with a bevy of emotion and thought-provoking twists regarding forgiveness, hate, love, trust, vengeance, and more. At the end of the book, the author has included photographs acquired in research. Tremendously stirring, this is one novel not to miss. So human, so real, so true! Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
This was not the book that I was expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be kind of creepy. Well, way more creepy. But just because my expectations were not met does not mean I did not enjoy the book. It was more nonfiction with fiction thrown in here and there. It was informative, heartbreaking, eye opening, sad, emotional and compelling. Orphans were being used as mice for experiments. While this story was a little extreme, it brought out the fact that this was commonplace back in the 1920's and 1930's. It also touched on the stigma of lesbianism and how (hard to believe) today's standards and practices have come a long way. I did enjoy reading this book and I really felt sorry for Rachel. Times were tough when she was growing up and although she did have a hard life, she really did luck out a lot of times. I truly do recommend this book if your into human feelings, tragedies and fortunes.
MaureenST More than 1 year ago
Orphan Number Eight is actually Rachael Rabinowitz’s story from beginning to the last page. We follow her from the age of four until she is facing a life threatening force, and you will empathize and feel for her all the way through, no mater if she is doing right or wrong. Rachael is living with her family, her mother, father and brother in a tenement on New York’s lower east side. When tragedy strikes, this little girl’s world is turned up side down, and will never be the same. Rachael and Sam are sent to the Hebrew’s Orphanage Home, and her life takes a terrible turn. We are with Rachel as she suffers from one injustice to another, and want to help, but the fact that this story is fiction, but based on fact, does not make it any better. To think that a Doctor could get away with giving numbers to children rather than names, hence number eight. It is brought out in the story, but I couldn’t help thinking that this place wasn’t much better than Hitler’s Nazi’s. I couldn’t put this book down, once I turned the first page I had to read it to the end and it was less than a day, that I turned the final page. I wanted more, yes, but I wanted peace for Rachael. I recommend this read as an eye opener; life can be very tough, especially for vulnerable children. I received this book through Harper Collins Publishing, and was not required to give a positive review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wnt it but i have no money