Monday, December 12, 2011
Review: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Set in the small island of Guernsey just after the German occupation, this novel shares the journey of Vivienne de la Mare, mother of two girls, and wife to a husband fighting in the British army. Life changes for everyone on the island with the arrival of the Germans, but Vivienne has to put up with a group of German officers living right next door. It's not a situation she ever would have wanted, but it's made worse when she finds herself inexplicably attracted to one of the officers named Gunther.
In the midst of shortages and restrictions, Vivienne tries to keep her household going. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Blanche, is blossoming into a woman and her five-year-old daughter, Millie, is precocious and adventurous. Also in Vivienne's care is her mother-in-law who, unfortunately, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.
Against her better judgment, Vivenne starts an affair with Gunther. The two have their own island within the confines of Vivienne's bedroom. Here, the war does not touch them. This is their sanctuary. And finally, Vivienne finds the love she never had.
But Gunther is the enemy, and fraternizing with said enemy is not to be tolerated. Vivenne lives in fear that her secret will be unearthed, but it's made all the more so when she begins to clandestinely help one of the slave laborers on the island. His fate will be inextricably tied with the fate of Vivenne and Gunther's relationship.
Most intriguing about this novel is how we view our enemy. During World War II, propaganda made sure that our enemies were demonized, and made to look less than human. And in some cases, they were less than human - the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Japanese are testament to this. But there were good people on both sides trying their best to survive.
Is there ever a point when a relationship with the enemy is permissible? That is the question that The Soldier's Wife seeks to answer.
Leroy's beautiful descriptions of Guernsey and her lilting, poetic language make this a pleasure to read. But it is Leroy's portrayal of the human struggle to shift and bend with the changing times of war that make it a must-read.