Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: War on the Margins by Libby Cone

Reviewed by Meagan

Published: 2009

It's about: Amazon.com offers a great summary: "France has fallen to the Nazis. Britain is under siege. As BBC bulletins grow bleak, residents of Jersey abandon their homes in their thousands. When the Germans take over, Marlene Zimmer, a shy clerk at the Aliens Office, must register her friends and neighbours as Jews while concealing her own heritage, until eventually she is forced to flee. Layers of extraordinary history unfold as we chart Marlene's transformation from unassuming office worker to active Resistance member under the protection of artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who manage to find poetry in the midst of hardship and unimaginable danger. Drawn from authentic World War II documents, broadcasts and private letters, "War on the Margins" tells the unforgettable story of the deepening horror of the Nazi regime in Jersey and the extraordinary bravery of those who sought to subvert it."

I thought: When I was introduced to this book as a fictional account of the Channel Island of Jersey during the German Occupation, I, of course, immediately thought of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which, if you haven't read it, takes place on Guernsey in the Channel Islands during the same time period. Readers looking for the same elements that feature in Guernsey won't find very many in War on the Margins. The epistolary format, poetic language, the vibrant and dynamic fictional characters, for example, are not present. But this doesn't mean that War on the Margins isn't just as readable. Based on the author's thesis, the novel is steeped in historical facts. Actual communications between Germany and Jersey are included and several of the characters portrayed really existed. These factors made the book read less like a novel and more like a historical article--a little drier, perhaps, but all the more fascinating given its non-fictional  basis. I found several of the details of the lives of the Channel Islands residents during the occupation fascinating and it made me want to learn more about this forgotten part of war history.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf or Rubbish Bin? In-between. The read was supremely interesting and spurred me to look for additional reading material in the genre, but I'm not sure I'd feel the need to revisit the novel again. 

Reading Recommendations: If WWII is a topic that interests you, or if Guernsey whetted your appetite about the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, this novel provides excellent and interesting details. Also, as far as I know, a paperback version of the book is only available in England, but there is an Amazon Kindle version available in the US.

Warnings: Nothing I can really think of. There are of course illusions to many of the travesties of war, but nothing too overtly graphic.

Favorite excerptsWar is not neat and tidy.

Everywhere the Germans communicated the message “We Own You".

Not a word about the occupied Islands, though everyone yearned not to be forgotten. Which was worse: to flee into Underground tunnels most nights and sit in the damp as the bombs thudded down, or to see one's street overrun with German soldiers and vehicles, and the sunny beaches pockmarked with mines? To have to watch one's step, hold one's breath, keep a pleasant face so as not to upset the wrong person and end up in prison? To find you couldn't trust your local government?

What I'm reading next: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy