The setting is World War II Paris — when the Germans begin their occupation of the city, the protagonist of this story is just turning sixteen. Maral Pegorian and her older brother, Missak, are part of an Armenian family displaced to France after the Armenian genocide. They are stateless refugees and have made the suburb of Belleville in Paris, their home. Maralâ€™s father is a cobbler and owns a small shoe shop hoping to one day pass on his skills to his son.
It is Paris in the spring of 1942. Paris, the glorious “City of Lights” is even more wondrous in the springtime….but not for the French, not in 1942. It is the second year of the victorious Nazi occupation, and the French are struggling to get by. There are economic problems with the payment of the costs of a three-hundred-thousand strong occupying German army, which amounts to twenty million Reichmarks per day; lack of food for French citizens – the Germans seize about 20% of the French food production, which causes severe disruption to the household economy of the French people; the disorganization of transport, except for the railway system which relies on French domestic coal supplies; the Allied blockade, restricting all imports into the country; the extreme shortage of petrol and diesel fuel; (one walks or rides a bike); France has no indigenous oil production and all imports have stopped; labor shortages, particularly in the countryside, due to the large number of French prisoners of war held in Germany. And then there was the Jewish problem.
First-time author Ned Beauman really lays it out there in the first chapter of this extraordinary novel, which begins with an imaginary surprise birthday party thrown by Hitler for Joseph Goebbels in 1940. It is an exhilarating, outrageous opening to a book that will in fact take a quite different course. But it is important as a way of establishing the moral parameters (and this IS a moral book) and freeing up an imaginative space in which Beauman can explore some ideas that are normally unapproachable.
September 13, 2011
Â· Judi Clark Â· No Comments
Tags: 1930s, Bloomsbury, Eugenics, Fascism, Real People Fiction, Time Period Fiction, WWII Â· Posted in: Debut Novel, Facing History, Humorous, Satire, United Kingdom
Only those who fully venerate war can think of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a glorified event. Indeed, many fictional books that are set in post-Hiroshima reconstruction are filled with vivid, colorful and poignant descriptions.
So it comes as a surprise that Michael Knightâ€™s THE TYPIST is such a gentle book. It is devoid of precisely what one might expect in a book set in the wake of World War II: no brow-beating, no heart-wrenching, no intrusive authorial political statements.
NEXT TO LOVE starts out very strong. We meet three childhood friends in Massachusetts â€“ Babe, Millie, and Grace â€“ whose men are on the cusp of going off to World War II. Ms. Feldman deftly juggles their stories and breathes life into their characters. Grace is the beauty who is married to the heir of one of the townâ€™s most illustrious citizens and has a young daughter; Millie is married to Pete, the pharmacistâ€™s son; and Babe is the feisty wrong-side-of-the-tracks gal who is in a committed relationship with an upstanding man who wants to become a teacher.
The quotation shows Margaret Leroy at her best, describing the ordinary routines of everyday life, in a strongly realized setting, and an acute emotional sensitivity. The place is Guernsey, one of the British Channel Islands nestling off the French coast between the arms of Normandy and Brittany. The time is 1940, when the islands came under German occupation, after being more or less abandoned by the British as indefensible. The sadness comes from the fact that man of this little farm has been one of the few inhabitants killed in the bombing that preceded the invasion. One of the very few, actually…