CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 3. . . . October 4, 2002
We have met Sophie before, for a brief period when she and Marianne were together on the first Kinderstransport, the train taking Jewish children out of Germany in 1938 to safety in Britain. Irene Watts's previous books, "companions" to this one (Goodbye Marianne and Remember Me) follow Marianne through her succession of billets until finally she is reunited with her mother who has managed to get out of Germany just before war breaks out. Now we come back to Sophie, seven years after the train trip. In contrast to Marianne, whose billets were never very suitable or even welcoming, Sophie has had a "good" war experience as far as such a thing was possible. She has lived with "Aunt Em," a good friend of her mother's, and being only seven when she arrived, she soon began to forget her old life and become more and more English. With the end of the war comes the possibility of being reunited with her parents whom she hardly knows, returning to a Germany she does not remember and a language she no longer speaks. It is no wonder she feels that she needs finding.
"Coming of age" is another way of expressing this resolution of the internal question of who you are and where you belong. Everyone goes through some form of it and can sympathize with Sophie's cry of "It's not fair!" The recognition makes you all the happier when Sophie's situation is able to be happily resolved. Although her mother has died when the factory where she worked was bombed, her father survived typhus and his concentration-camp experience and with the help of Aunt Em's brother is permitted first to visit and then to stay in Britain. Her father has found her, but, more importantly, she is being allowed the freedom to find herself.
Interwoven with Sophie's story is that of Marianne. The two girls meet again, first in Picadilly Circus as told in the excerpt above, and then at the London hospital where Marianne is training to be a nurse and Sophie is a Junior Red Cross volunteer. This meeting allows us to learn more of Marianne's experiences since her reunion with her mother and also to learn about those of her friend Bridget who had been sent to an uncle near Montreal for the duration of the war. The contrasting experiences of the three girls add interest to the book.
Irene Watts has won prizes and praise for her previous novels, and, in some ways, this one is even better. The writing flows more evenly, and the plot depends less on particular and peculiar historical circumstances and more on the internal conflicts of love and loyalty. Its universal theme is enriched by its historical context but is not completely dependent upon it. The only problem, as I see it, is that if one has not read Marianne's stories and comes to the book with no knowledge of the Kindertransport or some historical background of the war (and many children will be in this situation) there is a lot that is left unexplained. On the other hand, a good book does leave loose ends that encourage further reading.
Mary Thomas has worked in several elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, but has a year's leave of absence in which to lurk in Picadilly Circus waiting to encounter someone she knows, although she will be living in Oxford.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.