Summary and book reviews of The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth

The Children's War

By Monique Charlesworth

The Children's War
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2004,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2005,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

In the spring of 1939, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, a girl sits in a waiting room in Marseilles. Ilse is half Jewish; her mother has sent her out of Germany to a place she hopes will afford her daughter absolute safety. But instead, Ilse’s journey takes her deep into the landscape of war: first to Morocco, then to Paris under the threat of Nazi invasion. Traveling across borders, blown by circumstances beyond her control, Ilse must use her wits to survive an enemy occupation, one that steals away her name and sense of self, making even her own language taboo.

At the same time, in Germany, a boy struggles with his place in the Hitler Youth. Despite the comforts of his Hamburg home, Nicolai comes to feel that he is a stranger in his own land. As his mother takes up with another man, Nicolai finds emotional refuge in a growing attachment to his beautiful new nursemaid, a woman of silences and sorrows. Gradually, he draws out her secret: she has a child whom she fears may be lost to her forever. That child is Ilse.

The Children’s War evokes wartime lives and places with astonishing immediacy: the labyrinthine bazaars of Meknès; Hamburg’s cellars packed with civilians during air raids; the salt tang of Marseilles, where prostitutes and gangsters live side by side with freedom fighters and refugees. We meet "Swing Boys" sneaking tobacco and home-distilled liquor in illicit jazz cafés, and young soldiers stirring pea soup beside tents on the sandy Baltic coast.

Meticulously researched, yet also a vivid work of imagination, The Children’s War recreates the landscape of World War II in a new and utterly unforgettable way. Interweaving the stories of Ilse and of Nicolai, it is a gripping tale of adventure, loyalty, love and betrayal; of disappointment and hope; of parents and children trying to protect one another; of self-discovery. It is a stunning novel.

One

Marseilles, March 1939

Ilse held her suitcase safe between her knees. There was a continuous loud crackle of announcements, which she could not understand. After an hour she moved to the corner seat beside the frosted glass window, for this gave an angled view of the Gare St. Charles. There she watched the constant flickering of single and multiple blurs against the yellow advertisement for Amer Picon. Any one of those blurs might open the door from the huge vault of the station and solidify into the person collecting her. This was distracting. Each time the door opened and it was not for her, she could not settle. In the guidebook, the tour of Marseilles occupied twelve pages, whereas Paris took up thirty-three. Marseilles was a mighty port, the oldest of the cities of France. Ilse shut her eyes and conjured up the map of the harbour which, facing west, was defended by its two great forts, Saint-Jean, to the north, and Saint-Nicolas, to the south. How happy her mother had been...

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About This Book

It is the spring of 1939, and Germany has become a ticking time bomb for anyone of Jewish heritage. Desperate to find a temporary haven for her daughter Ilse, Lore Lindemann sends the teenager to Morocco, where she will live with her aunt and uncle, far from Hitler's hub of power. So begins the adventure that will reconfigure Ilse's reality forever.

Under the doting gaze of her charismatic uncle, Ilse steps into a life of unimagined comfort and childish delights in Morocco. Yet simmering under the façade of music clubs and swimming pools, ice cream and private school, is the all-consuming threat of a world war, whispered about in fragments that reveal the cracks in Ilse's family structure. All too ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

I found The Children's War to be a very compelling read; Charlesworth really gets inside the heads of her characters, who have to grow up so quickly, and through them she conveys both the terror of war and the unvarnished banality of day to day survival. The book covers a lot of ground - from the bombings of Hamburg (at the time the heaviest assault in the history of aerial warfare) to the students of the military academy at Saumur in France who, having been taught to uphold the highest codes of honor, held a bridge against the German advance for a full day, while the people of their town stoned them from behind, so that they would surrender faster and spare the town.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Booklist - Debi Lewis

The overarching theme of this novel is salvation in its many forms and from myriad sources, chased by those who seek it and those who seek to provide it. The characters are complex and engaging and make this novel stand out from other similar stories.

Library Journal - Reba Leiding

The novel powerfully conveys both the horror and the banality of war through adolescent eyes. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Moving . . . With Ilse as unblinking guide, Charlesworth travels the morally ambiguous alleyways of war to create a deeply satisfying read full of richly complicated characters.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders
Children never write the histories of war, and yet it is their lives - so malleable, so vulnerable - that are often most changed by it. By shifting her gaze to a child's eye view, Monique Charlesworth has given us a completely original retelling of some of the familiar stories of World War II. A literary page turner, vivid, engaging and suspenseful.

Author Blurb Rikki Ducornet, author of Gazelle
In this vivid and panoramic novel, objects take on emblematic powers. A gift of polished silver foretells a family's dissolution; letters torn to shreds reveal a father's tragic incapacity. One rejoices in the wealth of detail, and, above all, the moral agility of the irresistible red-headed Ilse - her tender and triumphant awareness, and her capacity to unpuzzle and survive the lethal mazes of Nazism. The Children's War is a wonderful novel.

Author Blurb Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation
In this absorbing story of children who have to grow up too fast and parents who are less than perfect, Monique Charlesworth explores, with sensitivity and insight, the poignant drama of youth in a time of war. Vividly detailed, historically informed and emotionally restrained, The Children's War breathes a well-earned authenticity, even as it recounts circumstances that test human character to belief-defying limits.

Reader Reviews
kenneth love

the book with the o.k ending
The Children's War is one of those books that is hard to put down. The lives of the two children protagonists intersect in so many ways throughout the story but they are on opposite sides of the great divide of war. The descriptions of the conditions...   Read More

Emily Cole

The Children's War is one of those books that is hard to put down. The lives of the two children protagonists intersect in so many ways throughout the story but they are on opposite sides of the great divide of war. The descriptions of the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Monique Charlesworth was born in Birkenhead, England, and has lived in France and Germany. She began writing fiction while living in Hong Kong and is the author of three previous novels: The Glass House (1986), Life Class (1988) and Foreign Exchange (1995), all of which appear to be out of print.. She has worked as a journalist and as a screenwriter for both film and television. She lives with her husband and two children in London.

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