Friday, 4 October 2013

the books beside the bed...

It's a delight to be able to say that great reads are coming in from the library thick and fast.  As soon as my holds come in, I'm back on the library's database ordering more.  It's a great way of ensuring a quick wait for new releases - often I'm first on the list.  This week I have absolutely devoured Margot, Jillian Cantor's imagined tale of the survival of Anne Frank's sister, now posing as a Gentile and living in 1950s Philadelphia.  It is one of the best books I've read lately and possibly ever.  Checking reviews on Amazon, there were a couple of readers who questioned this novel, one who said she thought it didn't convey the depth of Margot Frank's (now posing as Margie Franklin) experiences.  Another doubted she would have remained in hiding and felt she would have contacted her father to say she was alive.  To those readers I say every work of fiction is a hypothesis.  Who of any of us could say how we would feel in that situation?  That moving to America from the horrors of war, only to find synagogues were being firebombed in the very city you moved to, wouldn't make you hide your religion?  This is a truly magnificent read, fast-paced, well-written tension - please let me know what you think!

It's been interesting to read two other fictionalised accounts of World War II recently, Liz Tolsma's Snow on the Tulips (set in the Netherlands) and The Time Between, Karen White's novel which contains flashbacks to war-torn Hungary.  As with the recollections in Margot - and of course the true account of The Diary of Anne Frank - Snow on the Tulips features people in hiding.  The young widow Cornelia is already sheltering her younger brother Johan, when he arrives home one morning with Gerrit, a man on the run.  I am going to seem slightly hypocritical here when I say that I think these people were not careful enough with their attempts to hide from their oppressors - when really, as in the comments I made above, who am I to say what people would do in that situation?  But there were so many moments - from Cornelia making cups of coffee with multiple cups on the benches (what if her house had been searched at that moment?) to Gerrit going undercover so he could support Cornelia at a funeral - when I thought the characters were too blasé about their own safety.  Having read Anne Frank as a schoolgirl, I saw real people who spent their time in an attic, not leaving until they were found...

Karen White's novel is set in America in present day.  The Time Between has three narrators: sisters Eve and Eleanor and elderly Helena, who escaped Hungary during the war.  This is the first of Karen White's novels I've read and I'm delighted to think she has written many others - now it's just a matter of ordering them in to my local library.  Eleanor becomes a kind of carer/companion to Helena, set up through the older woman's nephew Finn.  Eleanor works for Finn already and comes to this new position after a tragedy.  This is another highly readable novel, Helena's recollections of wartime Hungary keeping the trauma of the World War II alive, another account of another family in another country.  As Joshua - Margot's employer - says: 'You know what scares me most?'........ 'That people will forget, and it will happen again.'  Let us hope that through reading - whether it be fiction or non-fiction - and other accounts, that we will remain forever horrified at these experiences and guard against similar such atrocities into the future.

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