Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander

 

Avon Books UK|3 May 2018|400 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Lake Union| 20 February 2018|352 p|Review copy|3*

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now… 

I enjoyed The Tuscan Child up to a point. I liked the historical setting of 1944 and the descriptions of Tuscany and Italian food are beautiful. It’s easy reading and the dialogue gives a good impression of people speaking in a foreign language in which they are not fluent. Although I love Italian food I did begin to groan when yet another meal was being prepared and described in detail.

But the split narrative between Hugo and Joanna didn’t work too well for me. I liked Hugo’s story more than Joanna’s and I wanted to know what happened to him which kept me reading. But I thought the book was more of a romance than a historical mystery. And I thought the mystery element wasn’t too difficult to work out with rather too many convenient events that revealed what had happened to Hugo.

My thanks to Lake Union for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

the Nightingale

Pan |29 January 2015| 5*

The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library JournalPasteThe Wall Street Journal and The Week.  Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category. And I can see why.

Blurb:

Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My thoughts:

The Nightingale is one of the most moving books I’ve read and I was emotionally drained by the end of the story. It tells of two French sisters and their experiences during the occupation of France in the Second World War. The younger sister, Isabelle is beautiful, impetuous and a rebel. She joins the Resistance Movement, whereas Vianne, married,  stays at home looking after her daughter whilst her husband goes off to war.

This is a story of courage, of love and of the determination to survive under dreadful and appalling conditions – the horrors and dilemmas of living in an occupied country under Nazi rule, with rationing, curfews, and the dangers of being caught helping or of being a Resistance fighter. Vianne was faced with the dilemmas of whether to collude with the Nazi officers billeted in her house and whether to help her Jewish friend to escape before she could be taken off to the concentration camps. Isabelle takes desperate risks as she helps British and American airmen to freedom over the Alps to Spain. Hannah spares no details and I struggled to read the details of what people can do to those they consider their enemies.

Interspersed at intervals the narrative moves to 1995 as one of the sisters is invited and goes to a reunion. For a long time I couldn’t decide which one it was and by the time it was revealed I was in tears at the sadness and pathos of it all.

This book is one of my TBRs – a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018.

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

Nagasaki: Life after Nuclear War by Susan Southard is an amazing, heart-wrenching book.

The facts are horrendous – on August 9th 1945, two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, a five-ton plutonium bomb was dropped on the small coastal town of Nagasaki. The effects were cataclysmic.

This must be one of the most devastatingly sad and depressing books I’ve read and yet also one of the most uplifting, detailing the dropping of the bomb, which killed 74,000 people and injured another 75,000. As the subtitle indicates this book is not just about the events of 9 August 1945 but it follows the lives of five of the survivors from then to the present day. And it is their accounts which make this such an emotive and uplifting book, as it shows their bravery, how they survived, and how they were eventually able to tell others about their experiences. Along with all the facts about the after effects of the bombing, the destruction, and radiation, it exposes the true horror of atomic warfare, making it an impressive and most compelling account of pain, fear, bravery and compassion.

Throughout the book the black and white photos illustrate the true horror of the effects of the bomb – photos of Nagasaki both before and after the bomb was dropped, of five survivors – Wada Kohi (aged 18 in August 1945), a street car operator; Nagano Etsuko (aged 16), who worked on a production line in a Mitsubishi airplane parts factory;  Taniguchi Sumiteru (aged 16), who worked at Minchino-o Post Office; Yoshida Katsuji (aged 13), a student at Nagasaki Prefecture Technical School on a ship building course; and Do-oh Mineko (aged 15), formerly a student at Keiho Girls High School, working at the Mitsubishi Arms Factory Onashi Plant. There are also maps showing Japan today and of Nagasaki 1945 showing the Scope of Atomic Bomb Damage.

Susan Southard’s ten years of research has resulted in this impressive book as she reveals what happened in particular to these five survivors, their immediate injuries, the radiation-related cancers and illnesses they have suffered, and their difficulties of daily living still in pain both physical and emotional.

In addition to all that Nagasaki ‘reveals the censorship that kept the suffering endured by the hibakusha [atomic bomb-affected people] hidden around the world. For years after the bombings news reports and scientific research were censored by U.S. occupation forces and the U.S. government led an efficient campaign to justify the necessity and morality of dropping the bombs’ (from the jacket sleeve).

I knew a bit about Hiroshima and Nagasaki before I read this book but it has opened my eyes to the true horror of nuclear war and the need to prevent anything like this happening again.

Many thanks to Souvenir Press Ltd for sending me a complimentary copy for review.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd (2 Nov. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285643274
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285643277

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre: a Book Review

Subtitled The True Spy Story that Changed the Course of World War II, Operation Mincemeat is about the Allies’ deception plan codenamed Operation Mincemeat in 1943, which underpinned the invasion of Sicily. It was framed around a man who never was.

The success of the Sicilian invasion depended on overwhelming strength, logistics, secrecy and surprise. But it also relied on a wide web of deception, and one deceit in particular: a spectacular con trick dreamed up by a team of spies led by an English lawyer. (page xi)

At first I found this book a little confusing and far too detailed, but as I read on I became absolutely fascinated and amazed at what had actually happened. The plan was to take a dead body, equipped with false documents, deposit it on a beach in Spain, so that it would be passed over to the Germans and divert them from the real target into believing that the preparations to invade Sicily were a bluff.

Operation Mincemeat would feed them both a false real plan, and a false cover plan – which would actually be the real plan (page 58)

The corpse was a Welsh tramp who had committed suicide. His body was clothed in the uniform of an Royal Marine with documents identifying him as Major William Martin and letters about the top-secret Allied invasion plans. This involved creating a fictional character, a whole host of imaginary agents and sub-agents all with their own characteristics and imaginary lives – just as in a novel. The details of the deception were dreamt up by Ewan Montagu, a barrister and Charles Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), a flight-lieutenant in the RAF seconded to MI5, the Security Service. Both were enthusiastic readers, which stood them in good stead:

For the task of the spy is not so very different from that of the novellist: to create an imaginary credible world, and then to lure others into it, by words and artifice. (page 62)

The plan was not without its faults and and indeed it contained some potentially fatal flaws, but incredibly it succeeded.

Operation Mincemeat was pure make-believe; and it made Hitler believe something that changed the course of history. (page 307)

This is a book, totally outside my usual range of reading. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did and I think I did enjoy it because it was so far-fetched to be almost like reading a fictional spy story. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the minds of the plans’ originators and the daring it took to carry it out.

Seventy Years Ago Today …

… Neville Chamberlain broadcast that Britain was at war with Germany. In Wartime Britain 1939-1945 by Juliet Gardiner she quotes from the diary of  a twenty-four year old civil servant living in Croydon on 3 September 1939:

The sun is shining, the garden never looked lovelier – everything is in bloom. Tiger [the cat] lies there in the sun; all looks happy and peaceful. But it’s not. War has broken out between England and Germany, beastly, beastly war.

 Winston Churchill’s frame of mind was rather different. He wrote in his memoirs, The Second World War Volume 1: The Gathering Storm, that he knew if war came a major burden would fall on him. On 3 September 1939 he wrote

As I sat in my place [in the House of Commons], listening to the speeches, a very strong sense of calm came over me, after the intense passions and excitements of the last few days. I felt a serenity of mind and was conscious of a kind of uplifted detachment from human and personal affairs. The glory of Old England, peace-loving and ill-prepared as she was, but instant and fearless at the call of honour, thrilled my being and seemed to lift our fate to those spheres far removed from earthly facts and physical sensation.

And so it began …

The Second World War

Sometimes I’™m amazed at the links between the books I’™m reading. I read the following books by choosing them individually without realising that they all had similar themes. Recently I read One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, set in England in 1946 just after the Second World War had ended. Then I read Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham set in 1943/4 up to the present day and now I’™ve just started The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning, set in Bucharest at the start of the War (currently I’™m in the ‘œPhoney War’ period. I’™m also joining a local book group my friend goes to and the book for discussion is Surveillance by Jonathan Raban. I picked up that book yesterday and started to read it. To my surprise, although it’™s set in Seattle post 9/11 one of the characters, a journalist has been assigned to interview a historian, who had been ‘œan orphaned child caught up in the worst barbarities of World War Two’, spending his boyhood ‘œamong the displaced and terrorized people of central Europe, overrun now by Hitler’™s, now by Stalin’™s armies’.

I didn’™t plan on reading books about the War at all and it was quite by chance that it was near to Remembrance Sunday, but it all seems so appropriate. I decided I should know more about the War and so went to the library. There were so many books that I decided to get a couple of books specifically about D-Day as my father took part in the Normandy landings and also a huge book called Chronicle of the Second World War. I then went to a bookshop and was spoilt for choice with an enormous range of books to choose from. In the end I bought Wartime Britain 1939 ‘“ 1949 by Juliet Gardiner. Juliet was the editor of History Today for five years, a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, author of several wartime books, and historical consultant for Channel 4’™s The 1940s House and The Edwardian Country House. Thank you to Litlove who recommended this book. I thought it looked a good place to start.

So, I’™ve now got lots to get me started on my search to know more about the War.