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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 50.
- Review Date: 2007-01-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Peet's (Keeper) novel employs separate narrative threads to track the grief of a teen puzzling out her grandfather's suicide, and the same man's youth in Holland during WWII, where he and another Dutchman worked with the British to repel the Nazi occupation. Both men have code names and fake passports: Tamar's charge is to repair the fractured local resistance movement; Dart runs the wireless, sending and receiving encrypted messages. Fear of capture constantly stalks each, but Tamar is quartered on the site of a previous mission—a farm owned by Marijke, his beautiful lover. Dart is posing as a doctor at a nearby insane asylum, staying alert for late-night transmissions by popping Benzedrine. As winter sets in, so do hunger and desperation. It becomes less clear who the enemy is, as the locals resist Tamar's leadership, and Dart misunderstands Marijke's feelings for him and her relationship with Tamar. Only one man returns to England after the war—and it is his granddaughter, also named Tamar, who receives a box of effects following his death. She then undertakes a journey to understand the box's mysterious contents. Identity confusion is a topic near and dear to teenage hearts, but Peet doesn't introduce the younger Tamar until 100 pages in, and doesn't develop her story nearly as well as her grandfather's. Comparisons to Aidan Chambers's Postcards From No Man's Land are inevitable—readers who savored it may also take to this complex tale about how war casualties can keep accruing, generations after the battle ends. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)
Venturing behind enemy lines
Tamar's grandfather helped her survive algebra, taught her how to solve crosswords and enabled her to cope with her father's sudden disappearance. That's why Tamar, who was named after her grandfather's Dutch Resistance alias, is utterly shattered when, devastated by his wife's growing dementia, her granddad commits suicide. It takes Tamar months to open the box he left her in lieu of a suicide note, but when she does, its cryptic messages send her on an odyssey into her family's history.
The box's contents point to her grandfather's experiences 50 years before, during the harrowing "Hunger Winter" of 1944, when the Nazis, sensing their imminent defeat, resorted to their most brutal tactics of the Dutch occupation.
Following months of intense espionage training, two young men parachute into the Dutch countryside. One of them, code name Dart, is a first-time wireless operator posing as a doctor. The other, code name Tamar, is a more experienced resistance operative, eager to return to the Netherlands not only to coordinate the local movement but also to revisit his beloved Marijke.
Beautiful and brave Marijke's bold spirit is more captivating than she knows, igniting a chain of events that erupts in tragedy and leaves indelible scars that last to the present day.
Mal Peet's young adult novel, which won Britain's prestigious Carnegie Medal, is a masterpiece of war writing. Using a relentlessly intense narrative, Peet manages to capture the atrocities of the Nazi occupation in a way no history textbook ever could. In addition, Peet vividly conveys the more mundanebut no less realrealities of wartime: the delights of a bite of chocolate or a sip of cognac, the unexpected boredom, the fragility of love, the unending fear, the hesitation to hope. Just as Tamar's characters live on long after the final pages, the novel reminds readers that history's implications cannotand should notever be forgotten.
Norah Piehl is a writer and editor in the Boston area.