Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

Books about the Second World War tend to focus on the monstrosities perpetrated by the Nazi's and their collaborators during the reign of Hitler.

The war was not just fought by sadists and people willing to cross into the deepest depths of inhumanity.

It was also fought by normal men, women, boys and girls. The architect, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Leroy gives us an interesting and thought-provoking look at the men behind the uniforms and the relationships made within the confines of wartime occupation.

Vivienne has to choose between safety for her children and herself, and the innocent souls being annihilated by the Germans. It also becomes clear that the majority of Germans are confronted with the same choice. Their families, and their own lives or that of nameless victims.

Gunther tells Vivienne about superior officers, who have dared to speak out against the mass murder and maltreatment of others, and are now bullet fodder at the Eastern front. The German war and propaganda machine does not take kindly to any kind of criticism.

So the elephant in the room is whether the threat of death, violence or deportation would be enough to make you, me or anyone else stay silent. Or indeed instead try in our own way to help, even if it is only small ways. Those who stood and protested out loud were soon disposed of. The brave men, women and children, who fought silently by opposing the regime and the occupiers are the unsung heroes. Hiding prisoners, feeding them, helping them to escape. All of these things are huge in the face of the reality of being discovered.

Vivienne is confused by her reaction to Gunther. In those stolen moments together he is no longer the enemy, nor the soldier, he is just a man who wants her as much as she wants him. She learns about his life before the war, his family and career. She also has a friendly relationship with another soldier, who has come to her aid on behalf of Gunther. She finds herself in between a rock and a hard place.

Is she betraying her fellow islanders? Are the girls enjoying some fun with the German men, are they traitors for wanting a little attention and romance? Very thin lines and sketchy boundary issues for both sides of the coin.

I think the real question for me was whether Vivienne's attempt to balance the scales of justice was done because she felt guilty or wanted to redeem herself in some way. I would rather believe that the instinct to do the morally right thing, which isn't always the safest option, was a choice she made instinctively.

The ending is bitter-sweet. The repercussions remain unspoken, only the positive is relevant and that is exactly how Leroy finishes the story. She wants the reader to take that smidgen of positive in the midst of all that hate, pain and negativity. To remember that we are capable of bright moments within the deepest dark.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK and MIRA UK.

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