Format: Hard cover 245 pgs Duckworth Press, UK
Subject: Nazi treatment of Jews
Setting: Jersey Islands, 1940-1945
Genre: Historic fiction
Source: review copy from the author
Challenge: ARCs completed
From the publisher: 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.
There's good news and there's bad news with this one. The good news is that this is a well-written, well-researched, easy to read but hard to forget story about the hardships endured by Jersey Islanders during World War II, particularly those of Jewish (whether real or suspected) descent.
The story is told from the perspectives of several residents, particularly Marlene, a clerk in the Aliens Registration Office and Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, surrealist Jewish artists and lovers-real historic figures-who fled France, and became part of the Resistance movement on the island. Their letters form the basis for much of the novel.
Other characters are developed well to represent the population who starved, hid (and hid their neighbors), listened hopelessly and hopefully every night on their forbidden and concealed wirelesses and prayed to be liberated. The stories of imprisonment and trials of the Resistance members, and the eventual despair of soldiers adds to the perspective. Ms. Cone gives us a small but stunning view into the minds of those involved in this oft forgotten aspect of the war. If you enjoyed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will find this adds another and very different dimension to the story.
While it could easily have been just another novel about people enduring torture, starvation, and privation, about the Holocaust, about man's inhumanity to man, it wasn't. The story of bravery, treachery, and the effect of all of this (good and bad) on the human psyche, how every act-whether well-intentioned or not- has an impact that is often unforeseeable is the real story. It is a story very well told.
Now, the sorta bad news: This book was originally self-published in the UK, and later picked up and published overseas by Duckworth Overlook. It was originally slated for paperback release in the states this month, but so far is only available in the Kindle edition. You can get it from Amazon UK or through the Duckworth site. Bloggers were largely credited in the UK with getting this one promoted, and I think we can do the same here. It's a great little book that deserves to be on the shelves for readers here in the US.
Thanks so much to Libby Cone for providing this copy to me for review.