Posts Tagged With: WWII

War On The Margins by Libby Cone

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.

 

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The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

22nd June 1941.  This is the date that life for Tatiana Metanova, a young girl living in Leningrad, will change forever.  First, it is the day that Hitler invades Russia, and second, it is the day that Tatiana meets Alexander Belov, a soldier in the Red Army.  There is an instant and very strong attraction between Tatiana and Alexander, but circumstances conspire to keep them apart.  She quickly finds out that Alexander is the new boyfriend of her sister Dasha, and has to choose between her own happiness and that of her beloved sister.  Meanwhile, as the war continues, the living conditions in Leningrad become dreadful, and Tatiana sees people dying all around her, from starvation, illness and bombing.

And still, she and Alexander cannot let go of each other emotionally.  Will they ever find a way to be together – and will either of them survive the war?

Paullina Simons is one of my very favourite authors, seemingly always able to create books which I can’t put down, filled with very realistic and believable characters.  I felt the same way about this book, although I felt it was very different in style to such books of hers as Tully and The Girl In Times Square.

Tatiana was a great heroine.  Although the book is told in the third person, I think that we got to see things predominantly from her point of view, and therefore she was probably the easiest character to sympathise with.  She was feisty but vulnerable, and showed remarkable reserves of strength and courage.

I felt more ambivalent towards Alexander and at times actually disliked him.  Although he and Tatiana had this incredible love, he sometimes treated her less than gallantly, and came across as a spoilt young man.  However, his basic decency also came through and made me root for him.

The most fascinating and interesting part of the book for me was the description of war torn Leningrad.  To read about the tiny rations people had to live on – just a tiny amount of bread often mixed with sawdust or cardboard to pad it out – was harrowing, and it was all too believable.  Electricity was lost, and there was no clean water.  People would attack each other for their meagre rations, or someone would be blown apart from a bomb while waiting in line for their food.  The depictions of such conditions were vivid and distressing, yet utterly compelling.

The book was not perfect – at times it did lapse into slushy, sugary dialogue and I thought I had accidentally stumbled upon a Mills and Boon novel, and there was much handwringing and agonising between the main two characters.  But despite this, it won me round.  I found the book hard to put down, and was genuinely interested to see how the story wound up.

It is the first book in a trilogy, and I will certainly be reading the following two books.  It’s not my favourite book by this author, but certainly one that I’m glad I read.  Recommended.

 

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a simple, but powerful story of the friendship between two boys. It is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Bruno, who is forced to leave his childhood home in Berlin, and live next to a concentration camp in Poland. He forms a friendship with Shmuel, a young Jewish boy, who by coincidence was born on the same day as him. By talking through the fence, Shmuel slowly explains the horrors of the war to Bruno.

I think that this is the most distressing story about WWII I have ever read. There are no graphic descriptions, it is all left up to your imagination, and it is this that makes it so harrowing. Everything is seen through Bruno’s eyes, and so I built up a very strong connection with him. Bruno fails to comprehend the situation around him, and his suggestions about how things could be improved are incredibly touching.

The writing is easily accessible, and feels realistically like that of a child. The happy innocence of Bruno’s childhood is a beautiful thing. I loved the way that his parents tried to shelter him from the war, but am not sure that this was realistically possible. Surely a nine-year-old boy living in Berlin would have had Nazi opinions forced onto him in school? There were certain other aspects of the book that didn’t ring true, I won’t go into them, as I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t read the book. I’m willing to overlook them, as the message of the book is more important than a few details.

This book made me smile, it almost made me cry, and then it shocked me, and left the plot running over and over again in my head. I think it will be a very long time before the characters in this book begin to fade. This book has gone straight to the top of my ‘books everyone must read’ list. This isn’t because it is the best book in the world, but because it is so accessible to everyone, and is the most powerful anti-war message I’ve found.

Highly recommended, but have some tissues handy.

 

10/10

 

 

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