As a result of a Tweet (of quite some time ago) I was lucky enough to be selected to review some historical fiction – to all Twitter friends, keep your eye out for similar opportunities from http://www.trasnworldbooks.co.uk – and the last one, which I have recently finished, is entitled The Road Between Us and is by Nigel Farndale.
The story fluctuates between 1939 (and the ensuing days, months and years of the Second World War) and 2012 and encapsulates the story of the love between Charles and Anselm, the former who, is court martialled for ‘conduct unbecoming’ and goes on to become a war artist whilst the latter is sentenced to hard labour for ‘re-education’. From this initial scenario we are catapulted into the London (and Foreign Office ) of 2012 and the story of the kidnap, long term imprisonment and ultimate release of Edward, a diplomat captured and kept in a cave in Afghanistan for 11 years.
The plotline is captivating, the complexities of emotion displayed by all the characters is believable and well portrayed, and the way the storylines are ultimately drawn together, eminently satisfying. This is a novel that asks for involvement and attention from the reader – not a ‘light’ read but a rewarding and absorbing one and recommended by this reviewer!
I recently (via the wonderful world of Twitter) got the opportunity to join in the Transworld publisher’s reading group/historical fiction challenge – namely, to read and review, three newly published books. The first one I chose was Cruel Crossing by Edward Stourton : an excellent read, so much so that I passed the book on immediately to Helen Carey, WW2 novelist. The review below represents our joint view of the book. Recommended reading.
Cruel Crossing purports to be about one of the routes across the Pyrenees from France used by refugees escaping from Hitler during the Second World War, but it is, in fact, about much more than that. Edward Stourton uses the individual stories of heroism, endurance and courage of certain individuals who crossed or attempted to cross from France into the relative safety of Spain via the ‘Chemin de la Liberté’, as it became known, to illustrate a much bigger picture – that of the extraordinary turmoil and cruelty rife in France as the Nazis tightened their grip Western Europe. The book explores not so much the details of cruel, gruelling, escapes across the treacherous Pyrenees but more the vicious cruelty, treachery and prejudice of people and regimes that made those escapes necessary.
The by-line of the book is ‘Escaping Hitler across the Pyrenees,’ but in fact some of the most revelatory parts of the book are the descriptions of the divisions among the French themselves, on the one hand the almost unbelievable cruelty both at an institutional and individual level and on the other the extraordinary courage and heroism of those helping and supporting the escape attempts.
Cruel Crossing is by no means definitive, nor does it claim to be, there were other escape routes both by land and by sea, in this area and elsewhere. But by focussing on just a few of the stories in that small corner of south-west France Edward Stourton gives us an insight into the horrors that were in store for Jews, shot-down Allied airmen, prisoners of war, secret agents, anti-fascists, liberals, communists, and countless others who just happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in this and in other parts of Europe, and indeed the world.
It is a compelling read, Edward Stourton has chosen his stories well, individually they are exciting, shocking, tragic and heart warming. He handles his material with sympathy and compassion. His descriptions of the pilgrims on the annual treks of remembrance are poignant, reminding us that this period of history is gradually edging out of living memory. The reader is left with a sense of bewilderment that human beings are capable of such extremes of behaviour, and a profound sense of gratitude for our current freedoms.