A delightful book, full of clever dialogue (“Sorry I’m late. There were Germans.”) and heartaches, about the beginning of World War II in London and Malta. Cleave does a marvelous job of conveying a sense of oppression which must have been felt by the British before 1942:
“[Mary] loathed the way the newspapers printed maps with the stark Nazi symbol on a field of plain white, as if Hitler had sent armies of erasers. Better to crowd the swastikas in, to have them jostle for space. [For her class, she] drew them deliberately crooked. Her swastikas were degenerates that leaned at sickly angles and resembled one another vaguely, the offspring of first cousins who had married against the family’s advice.
Finally, she drew Britain, being generous with the width of the English Channel and giving the British Isles three times the area on the blackboard that they merited. She thought it unfair to expect children to understand that it was possible to resist, from an island the size of her hand, a tyranny that stretched the whole width of the blackboard from Brest to Bialystok.”
It is not really a book about the war, but about friendships, family relations and love affairs in the shadow of great uncertainty and disruption.