The Spy Game, by Georgina Harding.


On a foggy cold morning in 1961, Anna’s mother drives off in the family car and that is the last she sees of her. The siblings, her older brother Peter and her are told that she died in a car accident. The same morning a spy case breaks, the case of the Krogers. Who seem to be ordinary people, living in suburbia, but this is at the height of the Cold War, and the Krogers are spying for Russia.

Peter becomes obsessed with spies and codes; their mother was from the eastern part of Germany, what if she was not who she seemed to be? She was a refugee, what if she were a sleeper or even an active spy too?

Peter weaves fact and fantasy, their childhood circles around this. But as adults, what do they now believe. Can Anna find out the truth of her mother’s family history and place of birth? Does it have anything to do with Russian spies, or is there just as much another mystery to be uncovered.

I related to their childhood in the sixties, with all the period detail.

This is the first book I have read by Georgina Harding and I liked her style of writing a lot. So I will definitely seek out her other books.

  • Tranquebar: A Season in South India
  • In Another Europe
  • The Solitude of Thomas Cave

Christy

The Journal of Helene Berr


Helene Berr kept a journal from April 1942 to February 1944. She is a recent graduate of the Sorbonne, with a love for English literature and plays the violin, she calls her ‘selfish magic’; which helps her to escape the everyday oppressiveness of living under a Nazi Vichy government.

The time covered is the same as Anne Frank’s Diary. But while Anne was hiding in rooms in Amsterdam, Helene was a student at the Sorbonne, however their fate was the same eventual incarceration at Bergen-Belsen, both being there at the same time and dying in 1945, only weeks before liberation.

Her father is a director of a chemical company and a decorated WWI veteran., her background is one of privilege. Will their fate be the same as poor Jewish refugees?

She writes of everyday things, friendships and loves, the ups and downs of youth. She thinks she loves Gerard, until she meets Jean Morawiecki, a fellow student.

Early on the petty anti-Semitic laws are upsetting and bothersome, but as time goes by the signs become more and more clear that this is a noose, becoming tighter and tighter.

She writes in reference to the wearing of the star. A friend Vivi Lafon says ‘”I can’t stand seeing people with that on.” I realize that: it offends other people. But if only they knew what a crucifixion it is for me. I suffered there, in the sunlit Sorbonne courtyard, among my comrades. I suddenly felt I was no longer myself, that everything had changed, that I had become a foreigner, as if I were in the grip of a nightmare. I could see familiar faces all around me, but I could feel their awkwardness and bafflement. It was as if my forehead had been seared with a branding iron.’

She writes of inertia and even covert duplicity of French Catholics around her. ‘And she was right Catholics no longer have the freedom to follow their conscience, they do what their priests tell them to do. And the latter are weak cowardly and often unintelligent. If there had been a mass uprising of Christians against these persecutions, would it not have won the day? I am sure it would have. But the Christians would have had to protest against the war in the first place, and they weren’t able to do that. Is the Pope worthy of God’s mandate on earth if he is an impotent bystander to the most flagrant violations of Christ’s laws?

Do Catholics deserve the name of Christians when, if they applied Christ’s teaching, religious difference, or even racial difference would not exist?’

She often quotes from Keats, reads Winnie-the-Pooh and recites Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Rikki, Tikki, Tavi.’

Helene was indeed a gifted writer. This book, I have read, has been immensely popular in Europe, and I think, stands on par with ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’

Christy

Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski

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I finished this book well over a week ago, so If I don’t write a review of this book soon I will loose the flavour of it.


The style of writing is excellent, and one wants to read on, her word pictures are beautiful.


Hilary Wainwright is a poet and intellectual. He was married to a French girl, Lisa. They have a baby boy, who he sees one time before leaving for England in 1940, WWII. She dies during the war and now after the war he comes back to look for his son.


The questions asked are. Will he be able to find his son? How will he know it is his son? And does he even want his son? These questions are the basis of the story, and turn the ending into a cliff hanger.


Haunting pictures of post war France are drawn, people are coming to grips with their involvement during Nazi occupation.

What was Hilary Wainwright doing during the war? And his ambiguous relationship with his mother.


Why did he take so long in coming back to France to look for his son?


Hilary’s relationship with Pierre, the Frenchman who found this child and takes him on an unfolding journey to look for his son.

Some quotes from the book.

The residence of Madame Quilleboeuf.

“‘What an extraordinary place,’ said Hilary, standing in the entrance and staring at the grass growing between the cobblestones. ‘This isn’t Paris – it’s some shabby village away from all the routes natioanales.’ He added with a kind of delight, ‘It’s a splendidly romantic place to begin a search from.”

“But at the sight of Pierre her great hooked nose and nutcracker chin came together in a wide smile and in a hoarse voice she said, ‘So you have come back with your friend, monsieur. Enter!’ ”

Hilary’s description of Monsieur Mercatel. “He looks like an Englishman, was Hilary’s first thought, but he did not. He might have been a native of any country, this small thin grey-haired gentleman, kindly mouth, mild blue eyes, the cultured European of true goodness, but of no importance what so ever.”

The following quote so sums up Hilary and his relationship with Pierre and what type of men they both are.

“And this led him to think about Pierre who had said that under the Occupation people had done what they must, and that what this was had been settled long before. He thought, Pierre is a better man than I. He has the liberal virtues that I profess and personally lack. I am an intolerant perfectionist; Pierre refrains from judging anyone but himself. And yet I am a liberal intellectual, and Pierre is devoting himself to the furtherance of illiberal perfection. But Pierre can be tolerant of me, but I can’t be tolerant of him.”

The mother superior talking to Hilary at the orphanage.

“She smiled, ‘Ah, you feel it too,’ she said, ‘and I wonder whether you share the other rather strange feeling I had about this boy – that here was a child that would give one great happiness to help?’ She peered intently at him, shading her eyes with a frail yellow hand on which the mauve veins stood out in swollen relief. But Hilary’s face showed none of the sudden comprehension and hope he felt at her words, and she let her hand fall into her lap and added gently, ‘And have you any idea whether he is your son, Mr. Wainwright?'”

“Monsieur Mercatel said. ‘I have been wanting to tell you, monsieur, speaking as his schoolmaster, what I think of the boy. Whether he is your son or not, of course I cannot say. What I can say, is that he is certainly the son of someone like you.'”

“Hilary said vehemently, ‘I couldn’t bear to take the wrong child and then perhaps find my own later on.’

‘But you will not.’ said the nun, ‘that is as nearly certain as anything can be. If this child is not yours, then you will never find your son.'”

“‘Why? asked Hilary sharply, ‘Why are you so anxious that I should take him?’ She looked at him steadily for a moment and then said, ‘There are many reasons. One is that I am deeply sorry for you. You seem to me to be lost and in need of comfort. I would not wish to withhold that comfort from you.'”

Hilary thinking while with the woman who he picked up.

“The chatter flared around him while he thought of the queer change Parisian women undergo between the delicate faun-like beauty of their youth and the predatory brassiness of their middle age and how seldom it was that one saw, as he could see in Nelly, the brief stage of transition between the two.”

“Hilary said nothing. He stood there watching the child, feeling only hate for the creature who had put him in this predicament, through whose intervention he had made a fool of himself. The little coward, he was saying, the little coward.”

“You see, Pleaded Hilary, I am incapable of giving. I dare not give and so I’m running away. I’ve finished with ordeals. I am fleeing to the anaesthesia of immediate comfort and absolute non-obligation.”

I had two more quotes but I think that will give away the ending. The beauty of the well written word shines through.

Did I totally understand Hilary? No, as a mother I found him very hard to connect with. Academically I understood where he was coming from, but it did not endear him to me.

Did I enjoy reading the book and would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Christy

Resistance, A woman’s journal of struggle and defiance in occupied France, by Agnes Humbert


Before I start this book review of Resistance, remind me if I ever write a book about WWII, I must remember not to title it Resistance. Have you ever tried to find a book on Amazon just using the title Resistance, almost impossible to come up with the right book quickly.

Having said that, and this being my second book review of a book entitled Resistance, the other one was fictional, this is an autobiography of Agnes Humbert’s second world war years in France. In the French it was entitled, Notre Guerre.

She worked at the Musee de l’ Homme. As the occupation started, Agnes and some fellow co-workers and others, started the fledgling Resistance movement. She kept a diary, which forms the beginning of the book. After being arrested by the Germans, it is her remembered account of what happened to her. Where she kept that diary hidden we do not know, but it would have been devastating if it had ever fallen into German hands.

Agnes Humbert’s account is interesting, she was arrested early on and at that time the German’s were not sending imprisoned resistance workers to the concentration camps, but rather to work in the factories in Germany, not that they weren’t treated terribly, but at least there wasn’t a gas chamber at the end.

The details of her imprisonment in France before her trial and ones she got to know there, although in a solitary cell, were interesting. Many of the ones she was in prison with were executed. At this time the SS had not perfected their interrogation skills. She writes while in the French prison>

“I think back to all the happy times in my life. Just the happy times. The rest you have to forget, especially in here you must forget, or else you get wrinkles. Wrinkles on your face are bad enough; in your heart they are even worse. …”

Her detailed account of working in a Viscose factory in Germany, making synthetic silk fabric, which uses acid in the process. They had no protective clothing such as gloves, boots or aprons and inhaled the fumes all the time, their clothes already in tatters, became even worse with every spot of acid which spat on them.

Her strength of character and descriptions of fellow prisoners, which ran the gamut, from German woman, there for stealing, murder and prostitution, to the political prisoners. She formed several friendships, which were mutually sustaining in the terrible places she was at.

After being liberated she worked alongside the Americans and two close friends, in a small German town, documenting details of ones who were SS and involved in war crimes. One American she worked very closely with, but others she found to be too trusting of any German who could speak English.

There were many groups who were gradually coming back to the village after being liberated from the concentration camps, this is what she writes about one of them.

“I have been in contact with a sect that seems to be quite widespread in Germany, known as Bibelforscher, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those whom I have met conduct themselves with outstanding dignity. Today our investigations led us to the home of Herr Mengel, recently freed from the concentration camp where he had been held since 1937. While the Bibelforscher are greatly to be respected, they have never been of the slightest practical help to us. Infinitely discreet, they refuse to denounce their persecutors, trusting in God to avenge them. I have tried in vain to suggest discreetly that perhaps we have been sent by God to help them, but they obstinately refuse to view us as archangels in disguise, and keep their lips firmly sealed.”

Eventually she was repatriated to France and met up with her adult son.

She had finished the book by 1946. So unlike many first hand accounts of the war written quite a few years after it, her memories were fresh and recorded very soon after the war ended.

Her resolve comes through, she was in her forties when all this happened to her, so not in the throws of youth. The idealism with small achievements met with such dreadful sentences. She writes.

“How bizarre it all is! Here we are, most of us the wrong side of forty, careering along like students all fired up with passion and fervour, in the wake of a leader of whom we know absolutely nothing, of whom none of us has ever seen a photograph. In the whole course of human history, has there ever been anything like it? Thousand upon thousands of people, fired by blind faith, following an unknown figure. Perhaps this strange anonymity is even an asset: the mystery of the unknown.”

You do get the feeling that she thought it was all a great adventure, almost in the way the boys of WWI went to war. Actually her mother was British, Mabel Annie Wells Rourke, (1869-1943), who was part of the large expatriate community in Dieppe. She was very close to her mum and it grieved her terribly that she was not with her mum at the end.

Agnes Humbert’s account is an historically important one. It details the fledgling beginnings of the French Resistance, and their thoughts, feelings and idealism.

I enjoyed reading it.

Christy

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple

As you can see I’m on a run with Dorothy Whipple. Now I’m wondering whether I should save a couple of books to take on holiday, because I know she is always a good read. Greenbanks, the name of the house, starts in 1908, the copy write of the book I read was 1932. And concludes no later than the mid 1920’s.

It is set in the town of Elton in the Midlands. This is the story of the Ashton family, Robert and Louisa, the parents in their forties, and their children. Rose and Thomas , who are both married, and do not feature much in the story. Letty is married to Ambrose Harding, they have Dick, a set of twin boys and Rachel, who live close by. Laura who lives at home and is dating and Jim and Charles who live at home, all are young adults.

Robert has aged well and has always been a philanderer. Louise knowing this, but keeping the peace and family together. Loise is the central character around which all the others orbit. Suddenly a big change comes when Robert and his lady friend are thrown out of a trap and he is killed. Ambrose takes over looking after Louise investments, Jim and Thomas decide that Jim will take over and run the family business, a wood yard and Charles, who all the brothers feel is a waster, but is most beloved of Louise, has been persuaded to try his chances in South Africa.

Jim who is very much influenced by his fiance, eventually leaves home and marries her, much to his mother’s relief, he always found fault with everything. At this time with the loss of Charles, Louisa decides to ask a lady Kate Barlow to come and live with her. Kate was befriended by Louise many years ago when she was just coming out, unfortunately she fell in love with Philip Symonds a married man and become pregnant with a boy, who she gave up for adoption. Kate left town and has been living as a companion, so Louise decides that maybe she can show her kindness by inviting Kate to live with her. Kate proves to be a prickly, frozen individual, so it does not turn out as Louise would have wished.

Laura has been dating Cecil Bradfield and taking little Rachel along as a chaperon, it seems they are quite in love. Laura though who has always been prone to be selfish and prideful, has a tiff with Cyril; which leads to a separation, that is not repaired. So in a silly mood of pettishness she decides to visit her sister Rose down south and meets George, a rather over weight but rich man and she marries him. Letty visits with Laura and basks in all the things money can buy as Ambrose is a penny pincher.

In reference to being married Laura says to Letty, “Oh, Letty said Laura, wiping her eyes. “You’ve got it boiled down to that, have you?” Letty still looked blank. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Nothing …..nothing! Have some more keep – I mean cake. Let’s plaster our souls with chocolate cake, darling. It will perhaps hold them together as well as anything else …”

Rachel is a comfort to her grandmother, and is growing up..Ambrose feels that “He looked forward with pleasure to forming Rachel according to his influence.”

Letty visits her aunt Alice regularly, hoping that some day she will inherit, and have some money of her own. “It’s not really me, having the children and living with Ambrose,’ she would think in bewilderment. ‘This isn’t my life really; it will all be different soon. I shall begin to live as I want to soon.”

Charles who although set up quite well by his family money wise, decides to come back from South Africa, as he has a billiard room invention he wants to work on. His mother hears him playing the piano as she walks up the street home, she knows it’s Charles and is delighted. The Invention does not pan out and his brothers ever glad to get rid of him find a job in the Far East for him. He isn’t there too long when WWI breaks out and he comes home again, only to join up, the others being far to busy making money off the war to join up.

War brings changes in Elton. “The spoon of war stirred the contents of the provincial pan very thoroughly and Mrs. Spence called at Greenbanks one Saturday afternoon to ask Kate Barlow to join the Bandage Class.” Ambrose with his solid good looks and southern diction, that fell pleasantly on Lancashire ears, helps in a figurehead position with the War Relief , Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association. “I don’t care what you do it for,’ said the woman. ‘But I’d like to know what yer mean by being late with my money, ‘And it over. I’m waiting to go out.’ ‘Savages.’ muttered Ambrose …. I love this comparison.

By the gate, under the laurel bushes there were snowdrops like little congregations of White Nuns at prayer….’ It is March and news is received at Greenbanks that Charles has been killed in action. Laura comes home for the funeral, bumps into Cecil on leave and all is reconciled between them, leaving George out in the cold. Laura in her usual way leaves it to her mother to break the news to George. As she takes off with Cecil to seize happiness. He goes back to the front and she becomes a nurse and gets assigned to France.

Time moves on, the war ends. Cecil and Laura move to Kenya to live. ‘But in spite of the fact that she did not come home, it got about that she had gone away with Cecil Bradfield. There was not the sensation in Elton that there would once have been. The war had blown most peoples ideas sky-high, and the pieces had not yet come down. When they did come down they would never fit together again as they had before the war.’

Rachel is now seventeen. She has passed all her exams with flying colours and has been offered a scholarship to Oxford. Her father will not think of letting her go, to be a blue stocking. It’s interesting he says that as Vera Britain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testament_of_Youth in her autobiography writes that her father said the same thing. Girls of that time were just not expected to go to college, just marry well. Rachel does not hold back in telling her father a few home truths, about how he has always spoiled everything through out their lives and that is why all the boys left, Dick to work with his uncle in the engineering firm and the twins to South Africa.

Dorothy Whipple writes, ‘Children make parents as wretched as parents make children; but children do not really believe that. They can’t understand how it is that those whom they take for tyrants can be hurt by the victims of the tyranny.’

Rachel mopes around for a year and even her father has to admit, that maybe he made the wrong choice, and allows her to attend Liverpool University three days a week. Laura writes, can her mother intercede with George as she is expecting a baby and she must have a divorce.

Again Laura leaves it to others to sort things out for her. Letty and Louise go to visit George and this time he is only to happy to comply, maybe he’ll be landed with a wife and baby this would upset him and his finances.

Who turns up one day at Greenbanks, John Barlow, Kate’s son and guess who he falls in love with? Letty’s aunt dies, will she stay with Ambrose?

Well of course I have sketched out the bare bones and one must read the book to feel the ambiance of Dorothy Whipple’s writing. Now should I move on to the Lockwood’s or take it back to the library and save it for another time.

Christy

The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple


Is set on the cusp of WWII. The Priory around which the story revolves is the stately home of Major
Marwood and has been in the family for generations, along with surrounding farms and farmland, which are gradually being sold off to keep the Major happy in his expensive hobby of cricket.

His daughters Christine and Penelope are entering into womanhood, still occupy the upstairs nursery, having the whole floor to themselves and liking it that way; their mother died when they were young, and they’ve pretty much been left to their own devices.

Into this comes Major Marwood’s idea, that he maybe should remarry, someone who will take over the household and possibly guide his girls. So with the least effort he proposes to Anthea. Isn’t he shocked when Anthea declares that she is pregnant with twins. But in his usual style he carries on with arranging for the annual summer cricket tournament. Aided by his trusted retainer, Thompson.

Anthea decides she needs a nurse and implores Nurse Pym, to aid her through the pregnancy. They become so attached that this becomes a permanent arrangement.

Thompson, who is a bit of a lad, but most handsome, and good at heart has got himself entangled with Bertha, who on seeing that she is about to be ditched for the young housemaid Bessy, who he really is in love with, says she’s pregnant and he had best do the right thing by her; which he does. Only to find out it was a lie.

Bessy wants to leave but Anthea with the pregnancy wants her to stay and persuades her to do so. “In the end, she persuaded Bessy to stay. She meant to be kind.”

The Major has invited an excellent player to join his team for the summer, Nicholas Ashwell, who comes from a wealthy industrial family, his father is Sir James a little blustery, and his mother Sarah, good people.

Christine and Nicholas fall in love and marry, but not all is rosy as young Mr. Ashwell, has never found his own path and made is own way in life. They have a child, a little girl, Angela. After things revealed Christine leaves him, taking Angela, and goes to live with her sister, who has also married, but not for love, to the ever faithful Paul.

What transpires to both of them in the mean time, makes them grow up and see things so much more clearly.

Saunby Priory is to be put up for sale. Christine is the one who truly loves the house. Sir James is the means by which all is fulfilled and brought to a happy conclusion for all.

In ‘Somewhere at a Distance’ money is the ruination of the family. In ‘The Priory’, money makes all things possible, an interesting contrast.

I found the beginning a tad slow and it took me a while to become in tune with the characters. By the time I got to the end I was enthralled by her wonderful fleshing out of characters.

This book was written and published in 1939, it brings out how the people of Britain and indeed Europe, were so hopeful that the Prime Minister would bring about peace with Hitler and Mussolini, and for a moment they were ecstatic in thinking that it had been achieved. Dorothy Whipple writes.


“Life had been given back to them and they were delirious with the gift. The immense wave of hope and goodwill that was sweeping over the world engulfed Red Lodge too. This was the time when miracles could have been accomplished, when if they could have come at each other, the peoples of Europe would have fallen on one another’s necks like brothers and wrung one anothers hands with promises of peace.”

Christy