I love the idea of a historical fiction novel that is based on real characters. For me, there’s a sense of immediacy when you open the book, or perhaps it’s simply that the hurdle of believability is removed before you start. But, this type of fiction only works if you have strong characters and a great storyline.This book has both – a young kiwi WWII airman shot down over France and the brave family who help him escape the Germans.
When reading these details on the back cover of the book and then learning that the author is the airman’s daughter, my expectations were running high. And I was not disappointed.
This is a real story that chronicles the everyday lives of a farming family in German-occupied France. It’s 1942 when the wounded airman’s plane crashes into rural farmland and a French-family decide to help him get back to England. This is no easy task, and requires significant risk-taking, lies and surreptitious behaviour.
The book tackles the complex family and village relationships as each individual copes with the German-occupation in their own way. German soldiers have an overbearing presence, seemingly always appearing at the farmhouse unannounced and stopping everyone in the streets to examine their identities. You certainly are left with a strong picture of how the German army embedded themselves into everyday French life.
The book is honest and reflective, with a couple of unexpected and satisfying twists at the end; survival is never assumed and certain events remind us of that. Individuals’ actions and cooperation with the Germans are risky, but each villager makes their choices about who and how to support the warring sides.
I read the book in single sitting. Emotional at the close, I reflected how I might have reacted given the intolerable situation these people found themselves in and thankful I have never faced such personal tests. Almost any child over the age of 10 could read and enjoy this book, but older readers will appreciate the deeper social context as well.
Reviewed by Gillian Torckler
By Tricia Glensor
Published by HarperCollins