BookBrowse Reviews The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth

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The Children's War

by Monique Charlesworth

The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth X
The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2005, 384 pages

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A deeply satisfying read full of richly complicated characters. Historical Fiction

Comment: There are plenty of books about war told from an adult perspective but not nearly so many from the viewpoint of children, and fewer still that are written for adult readers from a child's point of view.  

Set in Germany, France and North Africa just before and during World War II, we see the war through the eyes of a young Jewish girl and a boy who struggles with his place in the Hitler Youth. Ilse is the 13 year old daughter of a Jewish father and Christian mother, both Germans.   When war breaks out she's sent away by her mother to live with her uncle Willy in Morocco, who becomes more of a father to her than her own father has ever been.  However, when Germany invades France, Willy rejoins the French Foreign Legion and Ilse is sent to Paris to live with her father who, as a vocal but somewhat ineffectual Bolshevik, has fled Germany to avoid the Gestapo's net.  Ilse's mother, Lore, takes a job as a nursemaid and nanny for a high-ranking family in Hamburg, where she agonizes over the decisions she's made and wonders if she will ever see her daughter again.  One of her charges is Nicolai, a boy the same age as Ilse, who finds himself increasingly uncomfortable with his position of privilege, and his family's (and thus his own assumed) loyalty to the Nazi party.  

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.

This review first ran in the September 14, 2005 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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