Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Jenny Lecoat - Hedy's War

The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.
Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.
A sweeping tale of bravery and love under impossible circumstances, Hedy’s remarkable story reminds us that it’s often up to ordinary people to be quiet heroes in the face of injustice.

Comment: I had this book in my TBR with a different title but while browsing the shelves at the library, something about the title (in Portuguese, the literal translation to Hedy's War) seemed familiar and I brought the book with me. At home I checked online that yes, it's the same book I had in the pile but of course, it depended on where each edition had been published.

So, in this book we once again have a story set during WWII. Hedy is a Jewish young woman who is living in Jersey, an island part of Channel Islands which were occupied by the Nazis as a strategic location. All the inhabitants had to struggle to keep any kind of regular life which, as the war kept on, became more and more difficult, especially when it came to food and essentials. Hedy hides the fact she is Jewish because she speaks German, having lived in Austria, and she tries to keep quiet but need makes her apply to a position as translator for the Germans, something she abhors but makes it easier to "hide in plain sight". She also gets to meet Kurt Newmann, who although not an officer, works for the Nazis and they seem to be attracted to one another. However, as time passes by and their feelings increase, so does the danger and the worry and the hardships on the island. Will Hedy be able to survive? What will happen if Kurt finds the truth about her?

I tend to like the WWII theme in fiction. Some authors manage to convey a world of emotion in their work and I thought this would be another heavy book to read but hopefully will have positive aspects to balance things out. I was also interested in the fact the setting was Jersey island, a setting not often seen in fiction. Plus, I read the author herself was from Jersey and the character of Hedy existed in real life, enough ingredients to make this a fascinating read. However, I ended up feeling this story wasn't as well done as it could have and perhaps my issue was related to the fact there's a lot going on without proper focus. 

Although Hedy is strong willed, brave and has her rebel choices when possible, she also comes across as a little obnoxious... not unpleasant but someone who got on my nerves at time. I can accept this for she was living in danger, in fear and had no way to escape her surroundings but it made it a little hard for me to fully empathize with her. She also embarks on a romance with Kurt, which would probably feel weird if one is in constant danger and he is the enemy but of course I can't really judge what was likely or not to happen in real life, in the same circumstances.

Portuguese cover

The problem is that the writing style made me think everything was distracting and we didn't have enough focus on anything. I suppose that the effort to want to convey many things in terms of historical facts, fiction scenes, romance content and a timeline which went from one year to the other made the story have a certain... superficial flavor, in the sense the author included a lot, shared many things but they only went so far in terms of allowing for an emotional connection between the reader and the characters and with what they were facing.

Hedy isn't always easy to like (in my opinion) but of course I wanted her to survive, to succeed, to exemplify a positive outcome for a situation which was unfair at so many levels. There are things she goes through which have had to result in trauma, but the human mind is able to process a lot, without a doubt. The story focuses a lot on the food deprivation many of the inhabitants suffered while the Nazi officers always had something to eat and I think this was probably the element that more often was addressed here.

As for the romance with Kurt...I see some readers have disliked it but I didn't dislike they fell in love, only how it happened, for it didn't feel romantic to me at all. At the same time, how can we know what we would do/react in the same situation? I think part of this notion is due to how the story is written, in a basic, clear style, without much room to descriptions or setting and some parts felt disposed of emotion, which isn't too bad on its own but along with the rest made for a slightly detached reading, a little clinical, without a lot of emotion attached.

Basically, this wasn't too bad and some content was interesting, I liked the idea those characters were real or are based on read people. But the author is from the island, I thought we would have a lot more on that too... again, I believe there were too many things happening, the author wanted to write about the whole period of the war and the occupation but or this wasn't the best tactic or her writing style is just as direct as it felt... I don't know, but I expected more.
Grade: 6/10

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