The Children of Willeseden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

willesden laneTitle: The Children of Willesden Lane

Author: Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A true story of courage and survival during World War II, and a celebration of the power of music to lift the human spirit.

Jewish musical prodigy Lisa Jura has a wonderful life in Vienna. But when the Nazis start closing in on the city, life changes irreversibly. Although he has three daughters, Lisa’s father is only able to secure one place on the Kindertransport. The family sends Lisa to London so that she may pursue her dreams of a career as a concert pianist. Separated from her beloved family, Lisa bravely endures the trip and a disastrous posting outside London before finding her way to the Willesden Lane Orphanage.

Here, her music inspires the other children, and they, in turn, cheer her on in her efforts to make good on her promise to her family to realise her musical potential. Through hard work and sheer pluck, Lisa wins a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Academy. As she supports herself and studies, she makes a new life for herself and dreams of reconnecting with the family she was forced to leave behind.

Based on the true story of her mother, Mona Golabek describes the inspirational story of fourteen-year-old Lisa Jura Golabek’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria to England on the famed Kindertransport.

~*~

The human stories of World War Two, whether on the home front, or about those fleeing persecution, are the ones that always have the biggest impact on me when reading about them, because it can be easy to forget that wars were more than just the statistics of dead and injured, and easy to forget the human cost – not just in life and limb, but in loss of family, loss of country and loss of self. The stories about these people whether true, based on a true story or imagined and based on history, broaden the story told in history books and go beyond the statistics. The Children of Willesden Lane is one such story of the human face and the human cost of World War Two, and Nazi occupied Austria prior to the war.

In 1938, Germany enacts the Anschluss, annexing Austria, and placing it and its citizens under Nazi control. Just like the past five years in Germany, the Nazi Party begins to erode the rights of the Jewish citizens in Austria. In Vienna, Lisa Jura is forced to stop her piano lessons because she is Jewish – her teacher is heartbroken, but there is nothing else they can do, and so, Lisa’s mother teaches her until a spot opens up for Lisa on the Kindertransport to take her to London, away from the clutches of the Nazis, and where her family will make every attempt they can to join her as soon as possible. In London, Lisa finds her way to Willesden Lane, where she becomes part of a family of refugee children, and through her music, finds a way to get through the war, eventually gaining a spot in a music program, and a job playing piano at a hotel, which gets her through the dark days of the war.

Playing the piano at Willesden Lane gives Lisa and the other children, and those taking care of them, Mrs Cohen and Mrs Glazer a chance, even if just for an hour, to escape the war and the damage it is doing to London and Europe, and the hearts and souls of those directly impacted by the war and what has come out of the Nazi regime. It is a story of hope amidst tragedy and war, retold for children aged ten to fourteen, and anyone interested by Lisa’s daughter, Mona.

It is a story that I didn’t know much about, but that will stay with me. Like other stories of escape from the Nazis, or Anne Frank’s story, and novels such as The Book Thief, and the three novels by Jackie French about this period in history: Hitler’s Daughter, Pennies for Hitler and Goodbye, Mr Hitler, it serves as a reminder of what men like Hitler can do, and what the attitudes they spread and justify can do to ordinary people who have done nothing wrong, using it to back up their ideology and effectively, scare people into silence. Lisa’s journey was powerful and emotional, and it gives a human face to a war fought less than a century ago, showing the power of the human spirit to triumph over hatred and adversity.

Booktopia

Advertisements

The Crying Years: Australia’s Great War by Peter Stanley

the crying yearsTitle: The Crying Years: Australia’s Great War

Author: Peter Stanley

Genre: History

Publisher: NLA Publishing

Published: 1st August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 264

Price: $44.95

Synopsis: The Great War of 1914-1918 affected all Australians and decisively changed the new nation. They were ‘The Crying Years’ according to writer Zora Cross, who lost her brother in 1917.

This visual history of Australia’s Great War offers a different perspective on a period of time familiar to many. It helps to connect the war overseas – the well-chronicled battles at Gallipoli, Fromelles, Passchendaele and Villers-Bretonneux – with the equally bitter war at home, for and against conscription, over ‘loyalty’ and ‘disloyalty’. Men faced life-changing choices: volunteer to fight or stay at home; join the revolutionary unionists or break the strikes. Women bore the burdens of waiting and worrying, of working for charities, or of voting to send men to their deaths. Even children were drawn into the animosities, as their communities fractured under the stress.

Prize-winning historian Professor Peter Stanley of UNSW Canberra uses documents, photographs, artefacts and images from the collections of the National Library of Australia to evoke the drama and tragedy, suffering and sacrifice, pain and pity of Australia’s Great War.

~*~

Peter Stanley’s new book, The Crying Years, coincides with the one hundred years since the Battle of the Somme. Rather than just being about the battles, and the statistics, it delves into the war they many fought at home – not as violent or deadly as the battle that the men who volunteered and those who were eventually conscripted from 1916 onwards had been –but a war none the less. Back home, people in Australia struggled with losing loved ones, not knowing where they were or where they had fallen, or been injured. Back home, those who hadn’t volunteered or were not eligible to serve were often thought of as shirkers, especially conscientious objectors.

The war that we know in most history books, whilst it deals with statistics, they also talk a lot about the Anzac legend and how it was formed, and what it means to be an Anzac and an Australian and the importance we give to it. Stanley’s book makes mention of this too, but highlights the darker side, the more tragic side of the war that led to the formation of the legend. We should still be proud of the men and women on the front, in hospital ships, and behind the lines and in the trenches who gave their lives for Australia during our early years as a nation, and also those back home, who lost family and loved ones, and by honouring their sacrifice, we do. But at the same time, we should remember it was not always heroic, that these brave men and women who returned home came with more than just physical wounds. Stanley states that when the last Anzac died in 2002, John Howard, the then Prime Minister, revived the Anzac legend – the idealistic one that seems to hide the dark and grim reality of the war, and presents the heroic image of a young nation and the sacrifice of 60, 000 men as what Stanley suggests was seen as worthwhile by a patriotic middle class – his interpretation of the fervour of war that perhaps did a disservice to the reality these men and women had faced. Stanley recognises the reality and the mythical legend in this book, and I felt he carefully balanced them out to give a more holistic understanding, through visual artefacts from collections and text, to the war and the Anzac legend.

The sombre images of battlefields, of war worn soldiers and nurses, reproductions of letters and other communications between officials contrast with the patriotic images of commemorations of Australia during the war and propaganda, and the profiles interspersed throughout of men and women who aided the war effort or protested it also give a more rounded view than some other books might. Stanley has attempted to be inclusive in this book as well, but as it is a visual history, acknowledgement must be given to what was available for him to utilise and write about during the research process.

An interesting book for anyone interested in history, and war histories, I think it is an important reminder that war has darker sides that were not as obvious back then, as it can be patriotic to those involved.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

sixteen trees.jpgTitle: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

Author: Lars Mytting

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia: MacLehose Press

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A 20th-century family saga of epic scale, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD.

By Norway’s bestselling novelist and the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD, a family story of epic scale.

Edvard grows up on a remote mountain farmstead in Norway with his taciturn grandfather, Sverre. The death of his parents, when he was three years old, has always been shrouded in mystery – he has never been told how or where it took place and has only a distant memory of his mother.

But he knows that the fate of his grandfather’s brother, Einar, is somehow bound up with this mystery. One day a coffin is delivered for his grandfather long before his death – a meticulous, beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps Einar is not dead after all.

Edvard’s desperate quest to unlock the family’s tragic secrets takes him on a long journey – from Norway to the Shetlands, and to the battlefields of France – to the discovery of a very unusual inheritance. THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME is about the love of wood and finding your own self, a beautifully intricate and moving tale that spans an entire century.

Translated from the Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett

~*~

The story that Norwegian author, Lars Mytting weaves is unusual, yet lyrical. In 1991, a young man, Edvard Hirjifell, begins an odyssey of discovery about his past, and the family he never knew, following the death of his grandfather, Bestefor. The mystery of his parents death begins the trip, and leads him to search for his grandfather’s brother, Einar, whom he hopes has not died, and will help him link the pieces of his past together. Edvard’s journey spans Norway, France and the Shetlands, discovering an unusual inheritance on the blood-drenched soils of the Somme from 1916, and a family legacy tainted by two world wars, and the horrors some of his ancestors were forced to go through. At times he finds himself questioning his identity, and as he finds people linked to his family, the puzzle pieces of his early life in 1971 begin to fall into place.

Translated into English from Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett, The Sixteen Trees of the Somme was more character than plot driven, lending itself to literary fiction, and the subtlety within the writing that hinted at what was to come, what had happened and who someone was. As a result, the story was slowly revealed, each detail placed specifically to ensure maximum impact on the reader.

Initially I chose this book based on its title, hinting towards a story about the Somme and those who were there – however, both world wars were only mentioned implicitly in the early sections, and it was about half way into the story before the Battle of the Somme and the events of World War Two started to link up to Edvard’s family history, and what his French and Jewish ancestors had experienced, and how a soldier who had been at the Somme had come to impact his early life, and his link to that family. It became less about the wars themselves and more about the individuals in Edvard’s life who had been marked by war and tragedy. Through the eyes of Edvard, it reveals not only the tragedy and futility of war and sending young men off to fight, or punishing people for resisting a heinous regime, but the futility of being human, and the flaws we all have that an impact on the decisions we make and the way we act.

Translated books allow people who don’t speak the primary language of the author to read stories they may otherwise not get to engage with, and this is a bonus of having these books available. Some translations are exceptionally done, and capture the essence of the book, and as a reader, you can get a sense of the movement of the story. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme achieves this, and through a serious and sombre tone, Mytting communicated the desolation felt by Edvard and those whose stories and lives had shaped his.

Lars Mytting has created a story that crosses a century, and through the eyes of the main character, reveals how different people reacted to the history and to those they knew had been involved. The image at the beginning of a swastika on Bestefor’s car is indicative of wounds that have not healed, but that could also hint at remnants of other attitudes that were around during this time, and is just one example of the slow reveal techniques used in the novel, which did give it a slow pace, but it suited the story and style of the novel, and as such, I found it to be well written and engaging.

Booktopia – 25% Off Top 100

Booktopia

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

rotherweird.jpg

Title: Rotherweird

Author: Andrew Caldecott

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Jo Fletcher Books

Published: 16th May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Welcome to Rotherweird: a town with no maps, no guidebooks and no history, but many many secrets . . . A stunning combination of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL and GORMENGHAST with a dash of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

‘Intricate and crisp, witty and solemn: a book with special and dangerous properties,’ Hilary Mantel

‘Baroque, Byzantine and beautiful – not to mention bold’ M.R. Carey

Rotherweird is twisted, arcane murder-mystery with shades of Deborah Harkness, Hope Mirrlees and Ben Aaronovitch, Mervyn Peake and Edward Gorey at their disturbing best.

The town of Rotherweird stands alone – there are no guidebooks, despite the fascinating and diverse architectural styles cramming the narrow streets, the avant garde science and offbeat customs. Cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history.

For beneath the enchanting surface lurks a secret so dark that it must never be rediscovered, still less reused.

But secrets have a way of leaking out.

Two inquisitive outsiders have arrived: Jonah Oblong, to teach modern history at Rotherweird School (nothing local and nothing before 1800), and the sinister billionaire Sir Veronal Slickstone, who has somehow got permission to renovate the town’s long-derelict Manor House.

Slickstone and Oblong, though driven by conflicting motives, both strive to connect past and present, until they and their allies are drawn into a race against time – and each other. The consequences will be lethal and apocalyptic.

Welcome to Rotherweird!

~*~

Rotherweird is a town in England, that has been self-governing since Elizabethan times, and though they are firmly in the twenty-first century now, modern technology does not exist or work here. Following expulsion from England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first, Rotherweird is a town of anachronisms and history, fantasy and tragedy, but also comedy – making the story a sort of historical tragi-comedy. In Rotherweird, outsiders are not always welcome, and treated with suspicion. The arrival of Jonah Oblong, to be the new history teacher for Form IV, and the sinister billionaire, Sir Veronal Slickstone, set a series of events that will end in tragedy in motion, and lead to further books, which I hope will answer any questions Rotherweird didn’t.

History appears to be important in Rotherweird – as long as it’s not local history or any history prior to 1800 – it will be interesting to see how this is explored in the next book, Wyntertide. Rotherweird is split into six months, and before each month in our time begins, a section of Old History is told – this is the history not taught at the school Oblong is employed at, but that he and Slickstone are working to bring back, though each through different means. In Elizabethan times, Queen Elizabeth I seeks to get rid of the talented children of Rotherweird that she sees as a threat, and Rotherweird’s concealment of them leads to the execution of one of it’s citizens, and thus, Queen Elizabeth I cutting it off from the rest of England.

The Old History sections act as world building through plot, and this is very effective, as is the technique of holding things back, and the hints dropped about Slickstone as Oblong delves into local history, which is forbidden, yet with the arrival of Slickstone, who has permission to renovate the derelict Manor House, Old History and Local History begin leaking out, and not only to the two men trying to look into it and reinvigorate it in Rotherweird.

It is an enjoyable book, where history, fantasy, tragedy and comedy collide in new and unusual ways, to create a novel that is full of intrigue and mystery, and characters that aren’t quite what they seem to be, in a world that is modern yet at the same time, not really that modern, filled with characters who will begin to question the way things are as tragedy begins to strike at people they care for, people who previously had no interest in the world outside of the history they knew, such as Orelia Roc, begin to wonder about that history.

Much like a Shakespeare play, the cast of characters is given at the front, divided into the groups that they represent. In the novel, notes between the characters are handwritten – in Modern English but in the script that can be found in historical documents, where an s can look like an f – though I found these to be readable, and it didn’t take me long to get used to this – having read some such documents, I felt this is what helped me to work this out.

Each section is interspersed with wonderful and magical illustrations by Sasha Laika. These illustrations enrich the story and give it further sense of wonder and fantasy. Rotherweird’s Elizabethan feel in a modern style of writing is magically appealing and I gobbled it up in under a week, the short chapters flying by within minutes, with a decent pace, and nicely balanced telling and showing, it is a delightful novel with a sense of mystery that I enjoy in my reading.

A great read, perhaps aimed at teenagers and adults, it will hopefully become a favourite for many,

images

Booktopia

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

undergroud railroad.jpg

Title: The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April, 2017 (latest edition), Trade paperback 9th August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and a NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION 2016

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner

‘Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime’ Guardian
‘Luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year’ Stylist
‘Dazzling’ New York Review of Books

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

~*~

In the antebellum South, Cora hasn’t seen much beyond the cotton plantation she is enslaved at in Georgia. An outcast as a slave and amongst slaves, Cora’s impending womanhood heralds an uncertain and painful future – one that she longs to escape but doesn’t know how. Until Caesar tells her about the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses set up during the nineteenth century to help slaves escape to free states. Assisted by abolitionists along the way to navigate the route and keep hidden from the slave catcher, Ridgeway. Running for her life and freedom after killing a white boy who tried to stop her, Cora must take on new identities and try to blend – working with a system that at each point, brings disadvantage and bondage of different kinds, and faced with the ignorance that breeds racism in the antebellum South.

Separated at one stage from Caesar, Cora must continue alone, and rely on fellow escaped slaves, freemen and abolitionists, all working to abolish slavery in America, in the decades leading up to the Civil War of 1861-1865. In a penultimate confrontation at a community of former slaves and abolitionists, tragedy strikes and Cora must use all the strength she has left to cross over into the free states, and begin to venture into a life she has control over, but that is still scarred by the shackles and chains of slavery.

Before reading this book, I knew a little bit about the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad, and slavery from a university history course on the American Civil War. It did not go into too much depth from memory, so Colson Whitehead’s novel helped to bring these stories to life more for me. As I read Cora’s story, I found it engaging, and at the same time horrifying: it was a story that gripped me on a human level, horrified at the way Cora had been treated, and as soon as she had some hope, it was ripped away too quickly. As the key character, all events and characters are seen through her eyes, and her judgement, but as she travels the Underground Railroad and encounters a variety of people in all walks of life, it felt that Colson Whitehead was showing the breadth and depth of how different people reacted to slavery, and how they felt about it. This made Cora’s story more powerful as she worked out who she could put her trust in and when, and in her dealings with Ridgeway when he caught up with her.

Using this historical backdrop, Whitehead has created a world of authenticity with a darkness to it that can’t be escaped or denied when discussing slavery and the antebellum South in the nineteenth century. Whitehead’s story mingles literary fiction and historical fiction, with a nice balance of character and plot throughout, interspersing Cora’s story with perspectives of her mother, Caesar and an abolitionist’s wife who nursed her back to health when she got sick. Cora travels through states that are determined to drive out the black population entirely, and states who seem to deal with black people but still treat them like second class citizens, or worse. The dehumanising language of slurs and “it” to refer to runaway slaves are shocking – but necessary. They set the tone for the characters and the setting of the novel as well.

Colson Whitehead has sewn the threads of this novel together eloquently, and by evoking a sense of place for each stop along the Underground Railroad, a sense of self in Cora and utilising speech patterns that fit the characters and places, has created a novel that must be read to understand the other side of the story to slavery and the Underground Railroad: the hopelessness felt by slaves, and the way they were mercilessly pursued and viewed as property in many places.

By shocking readers with the raw brutality of this period in time, Colson Whitehead’s novel will hopefully open up a dialogue and allow these issues to be explored further.

Sydney Writer’s Festival Appearances and links:

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad (Conversation)

Saturday 27th May 8.30-9.30PM

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/colson-whitehead-the-underground-railroad/

Pulitzer Prize Winners Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar

https://www.swf.org.au/stories/pulitzer-prize-winners-colson-whitehead-and-hisham-matar/

Booktopia

Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

Booktopia

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

the blue cat.jpg

Title: The Blue Cat

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the multi-award-winning author of The Red Shoe comes a haunting story about a boy who can’t – or won’t – speak about his past in war-torn Europe, and his friendship with a young Australian girl.

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky is a glimpse into a world affected by war through the eyes of children. The main character, Columba, is a dreamy, curious child, who notices the strange boy, Ellery at school during the early part of 1942. A blue cat, sleek and mysterious, has appeared at her neighbour’s house. The arrival of Ellery and the cat spark a curiosity in Columba that has her asking more questions, wanting to know more about the world as she tries to become Ellery’s friend. Columba’s friend, Hilda, is the realist, the pushy one out collecting money for the war effort, and isn’t as dreamy as Columba.

Ellery’s arrival hints that war is closer to home than everyone thought. He is mysterious and quiet, and doesn’t speak English – through the eyes of a child, he is strange, a mystery and yet, someone that Columba sees is in need of a friend. Though they do not talk, they become friends, something Ellery’s father finds pleasing for his son, lost in a new world without a mother. The story culminates in a search for the mysterious blue cat, and events that bring the war and the realities of what that means closer to home for Columba.

The Blue Cat is dreamy, and has a fairy tale feeling about it – as though the blue cat is not quite real. This fits with the dreamy sense I got from Columba, and also the childlike ways of understanding the war – You-Rope for Europe, said phonetically perhaps, as a child might say it. I found there was a sense of magic about it – the threat is real, especially during the air raid siren practice when Columba and Ellery are out walking, and yet, it retains some of the innocence of childhood, though it is scarred by a war that is so far away yet in other ways, so close to the characters.

The Blue Cat combines history with a sense of dreaming, placing the characters in a world where sometimes their imaginations help to get them through the day, but at the same time, the reality of war will always be there. Prisoners of war, bombs and people like Ellery, hiding away, hoping for safety away from the dangers of a nation far away. Throughout the book, Ursula Dubosarsky incorporated primary sources from the time period, which added to the reading experience and gave Columba’s story an authentic feel, and added to the gravity of the situation and reality that the characters were living. An enjoyable novel showing war through the eyes of a child, and a good read for children aged ten and over.

Booktopia