Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Soldier's Wife

Do you remember The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene? I think I was thirteen when I read that. That is the perfect age for that book. It’s about a jewish teenager named Patty whose town in Arkansas is to house a German prisoner of war camp.  Despite the ill will and fears regarding the German nation, Patty befriends one of the young soldiers in the camp. Her friendship with him is an escape from her hard home life and from loneliness  but when their relationship is discovered Patty has to choose between popular opinion, her family and this soldier who means so much to her.

It is a wonderful novel. It made a huge impression on me as a girl and now I think I’ve read the adult version.  It is The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy.  The basic bones in German Soldier and Soldier’s Wife are the same: two women involved with the enemy during wartime much decide where their loyalties lie.  That is a good start to a drama, right?

The soldier’s wife is Vivienne. She and her young family live in Guernsey. When the war begins Vivienne’s husband is off to fight and she is becomes a single parent and the caretaker to her husband’s mother.  Facing the threat of German invasion, many of the inhabitants of the islands send their children away for safety’s sake but Vivienne feels compelled to keep hers with her in the island.
The German Invasion does come and with it a harsh occupation. Normalcy is a thing of the past. Vivienne’s life is quickly taken over by food, fuel and every other thing shortages and the increasingly strict restrictions placed on the citizens of Guernsey by the German soldiers.  The kindness of one of the enemy soldiers occupying the house next door is the beginning of Vivienne’s affair or her collaboration depending on how you look at it.

Leroy is most successful and entertaining when writing about the day-to-day workings of Vivienne’s life and Guernsey itself.   She paints an evocative portrait of island life and a woman juggling multiple, complex relationships in an extreme situation but never captures the desperation this existence would have to bring on.
Historically The Soldier’s Wife is World War 2-lite. The author breezes through all that hard war stuff and fails to take any advantage of some of the real horrors on Guernsey like the use of slave labor. The heavy concentration on Vivienne's assignations that stay secret for years (Really? On and occupied island?) miss the intensity they could have had if Leroy brought more of the war into the novel. If you know nothing about the German Occupation of the Channel Islands not to worry you will finish The Soldier’s Wife just as knowledge free.
It’s too bad. I like the setting and all of the ideas behind this novel but as it turns out The Soldier's Wife is no Summer Of My German Soldier, my friend.

No comments:

Post a Comment