“The silence after he’s spoken seems to hold on to the words, as you might hold water between your hands – just for an instant, a precious moment, before it all leaks away”.
Vivienne de la Mare is doing what many housewives do on the Isle of Guernsey in 1940: she is taking care of her family while her husband is away at war. She has her hands full: young Millie is full of life and curiosity and not adept at readily taking someone else’s words for fact; Blanche is trying to blossom into womanhood within the constraints and frustrations of wartime; Evelyn, Vivienne’s mother-in-law, is constantly longing for her son while her mind slowly begins to slip away.
Then Guernsey is attacked and becomes occupied by the German army. These stilted, foreign men begin to requisition anything they choose and a tenuous balance is established between the islanders and the Germans. Many think that you are letting your side down if you so much as speak to these invaders, while others do what they need to for work or survival.
When an officer begins to show Vivienne some kindness, she isn’t immediately sure what to do. How can she trust this person who is a part of something that has done so much harm? Her feelings for Captain Gunther Lehmann quickly becomes too strong to fight and she begins a love affair like nothing she had ever thought possible. Within her candlelit room at night, they try to shut out the war and suffering outside and just enjoy the precious time they have together.
With the repercussions that could follow the revelation of their relationship, they decide to keep it secret. This tender time with Gunther becomes harder and harder to enjoy as the conditions around them begin to worsen. With supplies so low, everyone leads a continuously hungry, exhaustive existence. The establishment of work camps on the island brings the cruelty and death right to her doorstep and she can no longer look away or shut the reality of life from their nighttime meetings.
When Millie befriends a skeletal prisoner from the work camp, Vivienne must decide how far she is willing to go to help those suffering around her. How far can she push the family’s safety, and how much can she really trust this enemy she has grown to love? In this madness of wartime, what is right is no longer easily seen.
I cannot begin to fully express how much I loved The Soldier’s Wife! The descriptions are eloquent and atmospheric and you cannot help but become immersed in the surroundings: lazy bumblebees float through the thick, heady scented air and the bright flowers often seem in huge contrast to the dark goings on. Only the harsh winters and tossing sea seems to mirror the general life on the island. The streams have voices and the wind whispers to Vivienne, and you are lost in the story. Vivienne’s biggest fear is for her children to be left motherless as she had been, and this showcases how strong her feelings are: for Gunther and for those suffering around her. As she fights to discover what is right, you will do the same.
The Soldier’s Wife isn’t for history or historical fiction lovers alone. This is for anyone who likes a brilliant story that just won’t let go.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son and pet fish. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Hyperion/Voice. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.