Posts Tagged ‘wwii’


1947: Tommy Elliot, widowed when her husband was killed during WWII, runs the family seat Kings Harcourt. Life is tough for Tommy and her family and when a particularly harsh winter cuts them off from the rest of the world, things only get tougher. Her brother Roger has returned from the war with his friend Fred, who stirs long forgotten feelings in Tommy. And then there is Barbara, an old acquaintance of Tommy’s who causes trouble when she comes to stay.

Present day: Caitlyn and Patrick have a happy marriage albeit is on his terms. But they love each other, and Patrick is the one person in Caitlyn’s life who has always been immune to the charms of her best friend Sara. But when tragedy strikes, she starts to uncover hidden truths which lead her to question whether she ever really knew her husband at all. Seeking solace in an old manor house, Caitlyn tries to piece together the truth.

I am in two minds about this book. There were plenty of things I liked about it – I always enjoy a dual timeline, because I like seeing the two threads come together. The writing flowed and it was on the whole an undemanding read.

On reflection I think I preferred Tommy’s story, probably because I really liked Tommy and her sister Gerry. They were both intelligent and resourceful and battling against the conventions of the day.

Caitlyn’s story initially really intrigued me. However, I thought it was stretched out – Caitlyn could have got the answers she wanted a lot more easily and quickly, but she seemed to choose the most circuitous route. Also the denouement of her story when it came was ludicrous. Not only was the truth she was searching for completely unbelievable, but the method of her finding it was also ridiculous. I actually didn’t like Caitlyn much – she was pleasant, but such so subservient to everyone around her.

Overall this is the first book that I’ve read by this author, and I rattled through it, so I must have enjoyed it somewhat – I really struggle to pick up books that I am not liking. Would I read another one by this author? Yes, probably but it won’t be next on my list.

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Emma Bau, a Polish Jew, has only been married a few weeks when the Nazis come into her home town, and life as she knows it is changed dramatically.  While her husband Jacob leaves their home to go and work for the Jewish resistance, she is forced to take on a fake name, pretend that she is not Jewish, and live with Jacob’s Catholic aunt, Krysia.  When a chance arrives for her to help the resistance by working in the office of a high-ranking Nazi official, she takes it, but against all her inclinations, finds herself attracted to her boss – and the feeling is mutual.  While the devastating effects of the Nazi regime are being felt all around her, Emma (now known as Anna) must keep up the charade, and cope with her conflicting feelings.

I usually enjoy books set in the WWII, and this was no exception.  I thought it was an easy read, despite the subject matter, and events were moving quick enough that I was drawn in and always eager to find out what had happened.

The story was definitely more plot driven than character driven, and I was never sure how I actually felt about Emma/Anna on a personal level.  Nonetheless, the book does highlight the considerable risks that people took to fight back against the Nazis, and I am always slightly awed by such stories (because yes, these characters were fictional, but there were people who took such risks).  I felt that the author tried to humanise the Kommandant, for whom Emma has such unwanted feelings of attraction; he was almost – almost – likeable, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that he was a Nazi.  However, as Jacob barely featured in the book, he was also not a character about whom I could feel very much.  Krysia, on the other hand was a wonderful character – probably my favourite out of the whole book.

This aside though, I really like the book a lot, and an hour of reading it seemed to pass by in about 20 minutes!  The atmosphere of suspicion and not knowing who could really be trusted was depicted well, and I certainly felt thankful that I never lived through such times or make such decisions as Emma did.

On the basis of this book, I bought another book by Pam Jenoff (actually a prequel to this one, where more is written about the Kommandant’s first wife), and I look forward to reading it very soon.

(Author’s website can be found here.)


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Set in 1941 (and made in 1959), this comedy is about the Captain (Cary Grant) of a newly commissioned submarine, which gets damaged.  The Captain insists that he can get it to a dockyard, despite the damage, but as most of his crew are sent elsewhere, he finds himself with a con-man Supplies Officer (Tony Curtis) and a group of army nurses, who prove to be a distraction to the crew.  And how on earth is he supposed to cope when the submarine is painted bright pink?!

Prior to watching this film, I had read various reviews which suggested that it was very sexist, and would probably offend many females viewing it nowadays.  Maybe because of this, I was expecting to find it offensive, but actually there was nothing here that I could imagine really bothering viewers, male or female.  Sure, there is the odd gag that could have come out of a Carry On film, but the jokes were all pretty harmless and played for laughs, not insults.

The film was very funny, with lots of visual and verbal jokes.  Cary Grant was perfect as the frustrated Captain Matt Sherman, who just wanted to get his vessel fixed so that he could continue his role in the war.  And had Tony Curtis not been playing opposite such a genuine professional, he would have stolen the entire movie, with his pitch-perfect portrayal of the loveable but incorrigible Lieutenant Nick Holden.  This film also reminds viewers of what a beautiful looking man Tony Curtis was.  The two lead actors have huge amounts of charisma.  Able support is provided by Dina Merrill, Joan O’Brien and Gavin MacLeod.

All in all, a very funny and entertaining movie, and one that is well worth watching, especially for fans of Cary Grant and/or Tony Curtis.

Year of release: 1959

Director: Blake Edwards

Writers: Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin, Paul King, Joseph Stone

Main cast: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Dina Merrill, Joan O’Brien, Gavin MacLeod

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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.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me this book to review.)

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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.

(I would like to thank Harper Collins for sending me this book to review.  Harper Collins’ website can be found here.  Paullina Simons’ website can be found here.)


Click here for my review of Tatiana and Alexander (the second book in this trilogy).


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This is the story of Lakshmi, a young Ceylonese girl brought to Malaya in 1930, as the young bride of an older man, and her children and grandchildren.

Lakshmi narrates the first part of the book, where she explains about her childhood and how she is tricked into marriage, but then goes on to have six children.  The baton is then passed between various characters as we witness events from their individual points of view and learn how the tragedy that befell Lakshmi’s family haunted the further generations.  The book ends up in the current day, and as a result the reader is presented with details of the a changing country, and learns how WWII shaped and changed the lives of so many.

To give away much more of the plot would be to start revealing spoilers, but suffice to say that this is an enchanting and moving read.  The narrators all have their own distinct personalities and perceptions of various events and each other.  Some parts were harrowing to read as people struggled with the effects of the war, made wrong decisions and lived with regret.  Lakshmi is the matriarch of this family and her strength, intelligence and determination are clear for all to see.

Malay(si)a is brought to vivid life, and I felt able to really imagine the place with all it’s vibrancy and energy.  Towards the end, the language did become a little bit ‘flowery’ and I felt that the book was perhaps slightly too long, although it packed a lot into it’s pages and certainly never got boring.

This was the debut novel by this author and very impressive it is too.  I will be seeking out further work by Rani Manicka.

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In what was a departure for Sarah Waters after three (extremely popular) Victorian novels, this book is set during and around the time of WWII.  It tells the story of four characters – Kay; a lonely woman, tired of life and love; Viv, a young beauty who is loyal to her Soldier lover, despite her reservations; Helen, Viv’s colleague who is harbouring troubling thoughts about her relationship; and Duncan, Viv’s younger brother who has been through some troubling times.

Sarah Waters employs an unusual plot device in splitting the book into three parts which move backwards chronologically.  The first part is set in 1947, when England is recovering from war, and we watch the characters moving through their lives. The second part is set in 1944, at the height of WWII, and the first part is set in 1941. (However, each individual section moves forward and tells the events of a few weeks or months in the characters’ lives.)  The second and third parts start to fill in the blanks in their lives so that we discover how they came to find themselves in the situations they are in at the beginning (or the end) of the novel.

Every character – even the peripheral ones – is described wonderfully so that the reader really feels that they have come to know these people.  They are decent characters, but each with their very personal and believeable flaws. 1940s London is also portrayed very vividly and beautifully, with the ravaged city almost being a fifth main character.

I have always thought that Sarah Waters is a wonderful and very talented novelist – this book serves to confirm my opinion further.  I found myself anxious to know how the story turned out, and it held my attention completely. Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl in Nazi Germany, who having watched her family disintegrate, is fostered by the kindly Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel sees the atrocities committed in wartime, and sees the best and worst that humankind has to offer.  Hans is the father who takes care of her and teaches her to read – a gift that will be her salvation and the comfort of others. Rosa is the coarse but warm hearted woman who fiercely protects her family. During Liesel’s story, we meet a whole cast of characters – Max Vandenburg, the Jew who is hiding from the Nazis and just hoping to survive the war; Rudy Steiner, Leisel’s neighbour and best friend; Frau Holtzaphel, the Hubermann’s next door neighbour; and Adolf Hitler, who while never actually appearing as a character in the book, certainly looms over the whole story.

The book is narrated by Death himself, who is a surprisingly thoughtful and compassionate storyteller.

To put it bluntly, this book is fantastic.  It is apparently aimed at young adults, but I think this is a book that adults of any age would and should get a lot out of reading. The story completely immersed me in wartime Germany and in particular, Lieisel’s world.  The characterisation by Markus Zusak is terrific. Although there is a fairly large cast of characters, each and every one is beautifully drawn, and I felt as if I knew them personally.  They were utterly believable, and I cared about all of them.

The book held my attention through every page – I never once felt bored. Death is an interesting, sometimes even amusing, and always thoughtful narrator – he reveals snippets of what happens to certain characters before the events actually occur, but despite this, when such things do actually happen, the impact is not lessened in the slightest.

As the vast majority of characters are German, the reader sees the war through the eyes of German citizens, and shows them as individuals rather than the collective nation which wartime Germany is often viewed as.

To sum up – occasionally, I come across a book which I want to tell all of my friends about.  I feel as though I want everyone I know to read it.  This is just such a book. Very highly recommended indeed.

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I quite enjoyed this book, but I did not feel that it was worth all the hype surrounding it.

The book, which is set during World War II, tells the story of Bruno, a 9 year old German boy, who is dismayed when he has to leave his home in Berlin to move to ‘Out-With’, where his father has been given a job by the ‘Fury’.

Bruno does not understand why there is a huge fence at Out-With, behind which 100s of people in striped pyjamas live, who he is not allowed to associate with.

However, Bruno makes a friend, Shmuel, who lives behind the fence – a friendship which surely can only end in disaster.

The book is told from the point of view of Bruno, so it is easy for adults to see past his naive views of the world, and sense impending doom, where Bruno is unable to see it.

One thing that did bother me about the writing was that Bruno’s mis-understanding and mis-pronouncing of words such as Out-With and the Fury, would not actually in the language in which Bruno would be speaking, i.e., German; they work in English only, and I couldn’t help thinking of this as I read the book. Also, there were a few glaring historical inaccuracies; I have heard someone defend the book in this regard by saying it’s a fable, and not necessarily supposed to be historically accurate – however, I think calling it a fable is just a way for the author to get around the inaccuracies.

I did not feel that we really got to explore the characters well, although Bruno’s mother intrigued me.  The writing did however flow easily and it was a quick and easy read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I loved this book, and wish that I had read it earlier. It tells the life story of Chiyo, who is sold as a child and despite a very tough beginning with her new ‘family’, becomes a hugely successful geisha named Sayuri. It is set with WWII as a backdrop, and the book also charts how the war affected not only the geisha trade, but life in Japan as a whole. We also learn how through Sayuri’s life, she craves the love and affection of one man in particular, from when she was a child to when she was a woman. Life is not easy at first for Sayuri. Forced to leave her family behind, she is treated like dirt by the people with whom she goes to live, and the older geisha Hatsumommo in particular, makes her life extremely difficult.

It is narrated by Sayuri, and it is easy to forget that this is not an autobiography, but rather a fictional (albeit factually correct) account of this woman’s life. It is difficult to believe that an American man wrote this book. Sayuri is a very sympathetic character, even if some of her actions are hard for a Westerner living in the 21st century to relate to – I found myself rooting for her the whole way through.  She was well drawn and utterly believable – as were all the characters, including Sayuri’s nemesis Hatsumommo.  Ironically, the one character who I felt was not as well depicted as the others was Chairman Ken, who Sayuri fell in love with.  I loved Mameha – another geisha, who took Sayuri under her wing.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and it really immersed me in the time and place where the book was set.  Some fantastic prose, which was a joy to read purely for the sake of reading it.

Overall, this was a fabulous book, which is also hugely informative about the traditions and rituals involved in becoming a geisha. As a result of reading it, I have ordered three non-fiction books about the history and life of geisha.

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