If you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, you remember the charm and beauty of Guernsey in the Channel Islands and the determination of the islanders during the German occupation. You’ll wonder where they are in Margaret Leroy’s The Soldier’s Wife but you will still appreciate revisiting the beauty and resilience of Guernsey.
Vivienne aborts her plan to flee Guernsey with her children to the supposed safety of London, after France falls to the Germans in World War II. The Germans bomb the harbor and occupy the island, and a small group of German soldiers move into the house next door to Vivienne, her two young daughters, and her mother-in-law; her husband is a soldier in the war.
The occupation is relatively resistance-free; since the men have gone off to war; those left on the island are women and children – and young Turks, too young to be soldiers but old enough to rebel. Vivienne’s initial fears give way to the seduction of the German captain living next door. Leroy carefully documents how he insinuates himself into her life, separating his persona from his life as a soldier; he is lonely and so is she, and they become secret lovers. For over two years, the war seems to be somewhere else. But when Vivienne’s young daughter accidentally discovers a war prisoner hiding in a nearby barn, the reality of the Germans’ brutality changes her perspective.
Vivienne finds herself torn: if she can ignore what is going on around her, she might be able to keep her family safe; if she follows her conscience, she may die – not even her German lover will be able to save her. She begins a dangerous duplicity, sleeping with the German officer at night and feeding the German prisoner by day.
The war ends, but not before a dramatic confrontation on the island. Vivienne and her children survive; read the last sentence carefully for a surprise.
The Soldier’s Wife is not as well written as Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary
and Potato Peel Society – one of my favorite books – but, sadly, Shaffer will never write another book. And Guernsey’s story is worth revisiting.
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