CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 13 . . . . February 28, 2003
Janke and her best friend, and their families, with the exception of Janke’s mother, are deeply involved in the resistance movement in their small northern town. Janke’s mother experiences debilitating fear of the German soldiers. She despairs of her family’s subversive and dangerous actions, and she cannot be trusted to protect her family or the resistance network. Although this character is presented sympathetically, she stands out from the others who stoically carry on their desperate resistance activities. They are seen risking their lives again and again as they fight against the Nazi occupation. The reader is introduced to many nodes in the resistance network: couriers and messengers; those who hide and shepherd others to safety; those who provide food, identity papers, clothes; and those who act honourably when opportunity presents itself as in the case of the old man who invites Janke into his home when she is on the run from German soldiers. He burns the flyers that she was illegally posting around town and then orders her to tie on an apron and peel potatoes at his counter in case the soldiers follow her to his door. Attema also presents the realistic consequences of many failed resistance assignments: beatings, imprisonment, deportation to concentration camps, and death. Despite these, Janke’s resistance duties increase in risk and danger as the story progresses: she goes from delivering food ration coupons and posting flyers to delivering a Jewish child to safety.
The resistance movement provides a compelling setting for what really is, in essence, a love story. Attema is careful to portray the brutal cruelty of the Nazis, but significantly, the first individual German that the reader encounters is smiling and polite, if not kind. A few pages later, we are introduced to Helmut Grün, a young, shy, sad and rather clumsy German soldier who steps on Janke’s foot at the tobacco shop. Janke is shaken by this encounter, but afterwards Helmut is frequently in her thoughts. Their friendship develops, and Janke’s feelings grow more amorous, especially as she comes to understand Helmut’s own hatred of the Nazi party ideals. The tenderness and desperation of this challenging love affair are handled well by the author. Ultimately, the German soldiers capture Janke. Helmut rescues her, and they both go into hiding, aided by a friend in the resistance who understands their love. The war ends, and Janke is spurned by the resistance, by her family and by her best friend who risked and lost so much to the Germans. The novel ends with Janke’s sailing across the Atlantic to meet her beloved German soldier in Waterloo, Ontario.
The love story is sophisticated enough to appeal to older readers (and note: there is a veiled description of sex of the crashing waves and soaring bird variety), but the linear plot, fast pace, adventure elements, and believable, interesting main character make this novel accessible to a wide range of readers. Due to the centrality of the love relationship, it will likely hold more appeal for girls.
The author’s attention to details of time period and setting is excellent as it is not overwhelming, but does give a clear picture of the privation experienced by the main characters. The novel is tightly paced: the story begins November 1943 and ends seventeen months (and two hundred forty two pages) later, April 1945. And although the setting is World War II, Nazi-occupied Holland, and this novel is a tribute to the heroic roles played by women and girls in the resistance movement, the major themes of the story transcend the historical context. How do you honour the ideals of your country, your culture, your family when your heart leads you in the opposite direction? How do you honour the gift of love in difficult and challenging times when life itself is threatened by forces of war and forces of evil?
Highly Recommended .
Paulette Rothbauer is a working on her Ph.D. in Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario in London, ON.
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