Category Archives: WWII

***** The Village by Marghanita Laski

The Village by Marghanita Laski is a special read.  She is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Wendy Trevor and Edith Wilson on duty at the Red Cross post as usual, it is the very last day of World War II.  They are sharing intimacies of their life’s that they would never dreamed of sharing together before the war.  As Wendy Trevor lives at the top of the hill and is considered middle class and Edith Wilson lives at the bottom of the hill and is considered working class.

“There’s a lot of us will miss it, ”  Edith said  “We’re all of us felt at times, you know, how nice it was, like you and me being able to be together and friendly, just as if we were the same sort, if you know what I mean.”

They talk about their families, Wendy has two children Sheila and Margaret, Edith has three children, Edie, Maureen and Roy.  They confide that they both lost a child in death, Wendy when her and the Major farmed for a while in Kenya and lost a little boy and Edith confides that she had a little girl who died.  They have become very close.

The Trevor’s returned from Kenya before they lost all their money and bought an old house with a small holding chicken farm, their income is about six pounds per week.  Edith confides that when her Roy comes back from the war he will pick up his old job as a printer, his apprenticeship having been finished and he will make ten pounds per week.  Edith used to be Wendy’s day lady, cleaning and cooking for her, but since they had to use all her income on the private schooling of their girls, there is just no money for a daily.  The Major is a disaster at business, being born in the era when landed gentry did not have to work and their private incomes where never going to end, but of course all this changed.

“Then they parted, Mrs Trevor going up the road to Wood View on Priory Hill where the gentry lived and Mrs Wilson going downhill on the other side, down Station Road among the working class.”

Wendy dispares of her eldest daughter.

“She looked at Margaret … her soft brown hair caught back with a slide from her sweet but oh, so uninteresting face. … thoughts of contrast between the life she had once known and the one she was living now.”

If her sister had lived and not died in the car accident, it might have been different as she had married money, her girls now had no hope of coming out in London and being presented at the Court Debutante Ball.

Gerald Wendy’s husband and ex-Major says to Daisy a neighbour and friend.

“You look as enchanting as ever,”  said Gerald, falling happily into the roll of gallant young officer with an eye for the ladies.”

There is to be a village dance to celebrate the end of the war all will be there.  Margaret does not want to go she thinks.

“There was something wrong with herself, that made Roger Gregory, the only young man of her own sort in the village, dance with her only as a duty and escape as quickly as he could.”

She returns to help in the kitchens and comes out, standing along the side of the Village Hall, a young man comes over and asks her to dance, she remembers him, from her child hood days as being Ron Wilson, who she used to play with, while his mother Edith was working at their house.

“Somebody nearly bumped into them, but he tightened his grip on her waist and drew her deftly away from the impending collision.  she looked up at him and thought, in a confused kind of way, that he looked as if he’d always be able to manage things, grinning away with that cheerful confident way he had, as if he was still someone people could be all right in trusting.”

Ron and Margaret win the Spot Dance and now all eyes are on them.

“Good-bye Roy.” … “That young man’s getting a bit too big for his boots.  A pity, because his mother’s such a decent woman.”

“What can Margaret be trained for?”

She is not at all academic like her younger sister and certainly will not win a scholarship which is so badly needed in the Trevor family as there is no money for further education without it.

“Margaret saw herself being married.”

Margaret ends up with a mind boring job at the Hospital which their friend the Doctor suggested.

“… the only thing they’ve got to hang on to is that they belong to the so called upper class, and even that doesn’t cut the ice it used to any more.”

One day Margaret makes arrangements to meet her old school friend Jill Morton at the pictures, but she doesn’t turn up and there is Roy Wilson waiting for someone who also does not turn up, they decide to make the most of being there and see the film together, with a bite to eat afterwards, thus begins their budding romance.

“I’d like to very much,”  she said, Roy’s whole face wrinkled with sudden pleasure.”

Margaret’s mum Wendy becomes quite ill from nervous exhaustion and Margaret stays at home to look after her.  She does not mind because unlike her mum she very much enjoys looking after the house and cooking. Mrs Wilson comes up to offer her services and it is agreed that she will do the laundry while Mrs Trevor is ill.

“Maureen … nudged Margaret in the ribs and said “The trouble with you, Miss Margaret, is that you’ve got no sense of class.”

There are many other characters in The Village that enforce the class differences of the time.  It is a truly delightful read and catches that era so well.

I rate this a ***** Five Star on my Persephone 100 rating.

Christy

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** The Provincial Lady in Wartime, by E. M. Delafield, A Persephone Book

The Provincial Lady in Wartime is set at the beginning of WWII.  It is written in the form of a Journal or Diary, so has that stilted feel to sentence construction, the way one records events and little things in a diary. It’s a record of a Provincial or maybe they should say Upper Class Provincial English lady of the era.

How will she comply to the blackout, making sure that all the windows are covered and not a chink is showing.  They must close a wing off, there’s no need to keep it open with the children away at school.  The cook is protesting about the antiquated range she has to cook on, and aunt Blanche is going to descend on them from London as she can’t possibly share a house with that impossible woman, who thinks she is thirty years younger and is helping in a canteen in London.

It is a witty account, of her endeavors to help in the war effort, travelling backwards and forwards from her house in Devon to London, working in the same canteen as aunt Blanche’s friend.

I read this from the original American publication of this book and in the frontispiece it says events – that make up the life of an average British citizen in time of crisis …  I beg to differ with this.  This book reflects the era it was written in, the type of person of a certain social station in life who would have the time to write and get her works published.  This does not negate the amusing chronicle of events unfolding in time of war and her eloquence of description.

Some quotes from the book on how bureaucracy works – Am struck not for the first time on how final arrangements never are final, but continue to lead on to still further activities until parallel with eternity suggest itself and brain in danger of reeling.

E. M. Delafield also refers to The Priory by Dorothy Whipple as a modern novel.

What is my rating on this Persephone Book Two Stars **

Remember my rating is within the First 100 Persephone Books and Persephone is already at the top of my list, but it does not stand the test in comparison.

Christy

What I’ve Been Reading, Midnight In Peking by Paul French and Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

Midnight in Peking, the year is 1937 Pamela Werner’s body is found near The Fox Tower on a piece of no mans land.  This is a time when Peking is being closed in upon by the Japanese, many Westerners are leaving if they can, many can’t as they are the flotsam and jetsam who have left Europe over the last decades, many being white Russians, add this to fortune hunters, diplomats and a very free life style, an underworld of opium and you have a true mystery.

Two detectives investigate the crime, a British detective Dennis and a Chinese detective Han.  It has shocked the elite enclaved mostly European community.  Who could do such a shocking thing a madman?  Must be a Chinese person or could it be one of their own?

These are the questions that haunt the detectives, but as time goes on one can see there is a lot of politics and payoffs involved.  This true story is revisited by Paul French and he does a great job, unearthing and reading through all the correspondence that Pamela’s father sent to the foreign office in London after he did his own investigation.  You can come to some very compelling conclusions as to who did it, and why.

It’s a great insight into Peking on the cuspid of WWII, but so sad that a teenage girls life should end like that.

Full Body Burden.  Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.  This is also a true story of Kristen Iversen, who lived in a wonderful new housing development built yes withing a hairs breath of Rocky Flats.

Just the name itself Rocky Flat is something you think now where have I heard that?  I can’t say I read the whole book because it became very detailed in statistics, but I found the beginning very compelling and read quite a bit.

Did you know that the third worst nuclear disaster happened back in the fifties at Rocky Flats and was not equaled until more recently by Chernobyl and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that just happened in Japan.  That was kept under wraps and only providence of the wind blowing in the other direction stopped the whole of Denver, Colorado from being contaminated.  Of course one could ask who was contaminated then?

A compelling book to read and probably if I had more time I would read the entire book.  The perfect suburbia of the 1950s gone awry.  People becoming ill and not knowing why, it’s all so new and what do they actually do at that plant, the government would never let us live here or build here if it wasn’t safe!

Yes the people of 2012 are less trusting or are we?

I may come back and finish this book at some point, it makes you think.

Christy

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

I ran across this paperback at my local library it was a .25c give away and I had always wanted to read it.

In keeping with Paris in July I read Sarah’s Key and then watched the film.  The book is a must read. Read the book before you watch the movie, so many more shades to the characters than can be brought out in the film.

Set in Paris, July 1942 there is a great Jewish round up known as the Velodrome d’hiver Round-up.  Sarah a ten year old girl is caught up in this and taken with her family to the Velodrome.

Fast forward sixty years to a journalist Julia Jarmond and see how their two lives become twined to one.

I will post a book review of this on my Lil Bit Brit Lit Blog later.

Christy

Passionate Nomad, The Life of Freya Stark, biography by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

Freya Stark a biography of her nomadic life.  As famous as Freya Stark was in her time and only having died in September 1993, I had never heard of her.  Maybe if I had been living in England at the time of her funeral which was attended by many titled people I might have caught a whiff of her name on the news.
She was known as a prolific travel writer traveling extensively in the Middle East, and having a complete command of many Arabic languages.  Lawrence of Arabia called her “a gallant creature.”  She was not afraid to travel with just a couple of local guides and ruff it.  Speaking freely with the local people and gaining their confidence.
Her reputation began in 1927 when she was captured by the French military police after penetrating the rebellious Druze.  She explored the mountainous area of the mysterious Assassins of Persia.  Followed the Frankincense route of early traders and found many areas of archaeological interest.  Including traveling in many places the name of which we are familiar with today because of the Iraqi War.
During WWII she was used extensively by the British military and diplomatic core, with an instinct for listening, gleaning information, plus her map making abilities and organizing skills.
Who was she?  Well her parents were English, but after her dominant mother divorced her father and aligned herself with an Italian count and a rug manufacturing venture. Her life drastically changed, shaping a lot of her emotional inner turmoils. Taken from a west country childhood of privilege to a small untutored life of poverty,  in northern Italy. This led to her receiving very little schooling and being brought up speaking English with an Italian accent, which was she felt a bane of her life.  Never quite being accepted in the circles to which she aspired and the background from which she really came from.
She did not extricate herself from her mother and the count until she was 34, but when she did break lose it was in a big way.  Traveling and writing and always falling in love with the wrong men.  Her career and travels spanned over 60 years, having published, 22 books of travels and poetic prose.  She was over 100 years old when she died.
A biography of a fascinating intrepid woman traveler of the  old school. I would recommend this book to read.
Also on the side line it touches on some interesting history of Iraq and what has led up to the problems there, along with the Palestinian problems of today.
Christy

The Dead of Winter, by Rennie Airth

This is an Inspector John Madden mystery. Set around WWII. Starting in the days just prior to the invasion of Paris by the Germans, people are trying to leave. Especially many Jews, who have already fled from Eastern Europe. A Jewish furrier wants to liquidate his assets and turns them into diamonds. He is asked to take along with him in his car a young couple also fleeing. The young couple find him murdered.

Fast forward to 1944. Rosa Novak is found murdered during the blackout, not far from the British Museum. Madden feels that he owes it to her to find out why she was murdered. To escape the holocaust only to be murdered.

This leads to a continental manhunt, that can only now begin as the Germans have left Paris.

This is a very exciting high speed mystery, action packed and holds you to the end.

Christy