This rather lovely book, which weaves fact and fiction, tells the story of the inhabitants of Jersey during World War II, and in particular, the Jewish people living on the island.
As people are forced to register as Jewish and find themselves subjected to all the hatred of the Nazi regime, some people try to flee for their life, many go into hiding (often in the cellars of non-Jewish friends, who risk their own lives by helping them). Many are deported, and many perish.
The book tells the story of many of the inhabitants, but focuses mainly on Marlene Zimmer, a young girl with a Jewish father, who tries to outrun the authorities. She is taken in by two of the other main characters, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (the aliases of Lucille Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, step-sisters and lovers. The three women aid the Resistance, picking up scraps of news on their forbidden wirelesses, passing information to other citizens, and encouraging German soldiers to desert. Also featuring prominently in the story is Peter, a Polish Jew who finds himself transported from one prison to another.
The official documents in this novel are real, as are the love letters which Suzanne and Lucille write to each other. This mixture of real life and fiction underlines the horrors of war in Jersey. The book is told in clean and direct language, but it is very evocative and I found myself feeling very moved. Some of the measures taken against Jews were difficult to imagine – not being able to have or profit from their own businesses, not being able to go into shops or theatres, and only being allowed to go shopping between 3pm – 4pm. (Sadly, we know only too well that these were nowhere near the worst atrocities visited upon them.)
As well as the main characters, the stories of more peripheral characters are also told, which made for a fuller picture of life in Jersey as a whole, rather than just a handful of residents.
Overall, this is a book I would highly recommend. Eloquent writing and a subject that lingers in the mind make this an excellent telling of an important story.