Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Far, Far Away

As I watch the evening news on ABC, I have to close my eyes when they report about the plight of the Somali people fleeing the unrest and war in their country to walk fifty miles to a refugee camp. It is hot and they have no food. Some refugees don't survive the trip. As I watch the evening news coverage of the Afghans struggling with oppression in their country, knowing that it won't get better when the Americans leave, not that it is what they want with us there, I shudder to think what will happen to that country. As I watch the evening news in the countries where populations are fighting for freedom against dictators, I get a scary feeling that war happens in so many places and it is a feeling of hopelessness. It isn't really far, far away and like a lot of Americans, I hope we never have to face those circumstances again in this country, and it is easy to forget we actually had wars on U.S. soil, just not in my lifetime. I wish there was something that could be done for those countries far, far away, but it doesn't benefit my health to excessively worry about the war torn countries around the world. I take the coward's way out and try to limit my exposure to the reports of war and political discord. The consequences of war to citizens everywhere is so devastating. Is it beyond human ability to learn to live on the planet in peaceful accord? Greed, intolerance, and the quest for power isn't worth the suffering it produces, in my humble opinion.

With those issues weighing heavily in the back of my mind, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I approached The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy. Since it is about the period of time during World War II and I know how that turned out, I thought I would see if I could finish it without unduly stressing my sensibilities.

The Soldier's Wife is about Vivienne who lives on Guernsey, a Channel Island near the coast of France, during the years of World War II when the Germans occupied the islands. 

Her husband, from the marriage that she regrets, is off at war and she is left on the island taking care of their two young daughters and his dying mother who has dementia. Vivienne worries about the war coming to the islands and her friend, Gwen, assures her "Nobody bothered with us during the Great War." World War I happened far, far away but World War II lands in their community.

She is torn between her own needs, her family duties, and her community's ideals of patriotism when several German soldiers move into the empty house next door. Vivienne struggles with daily survival and providing for the family when supplies are rationed, but is tempted into accepting coffee, and chocolates from the German soldiers. When she engages in an affair with one of the soldiers, she learns that they are just like the people on the island and don't want the war either. One is a doctor, one an architect, and she befriends a run-away prisoner of war who is a musician and maker of  violins. Her lover reveals that they are just doing what they are ordered and have no more control over their lives than the people whose countries are under occupation. Her lover also points out how easily corrupted people are with power and how easy it becomes to kill others.

The Guernsey community experiences many of the cruelties of war and the uncertainty of who would win and how long they would suffer under the occupation. Vivienne survives the war and she learns she can manage on her own. Vivienne had shared with her lover a book of poetry with words by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

A nun takes the veil

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail, 
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail 
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Those words come back to haunt her after the war is over. It was a predictable ending with much sadness, but the island residents are relieved when the war has left their shores. They are left picking up the pieces of their lives and hoping that war will stay far, far away.

I'm a fan of World War II books and I thought this one was a good view of struggles on the home front. I felt it necessarily pointed out that the women of wars are left picking up the pieces of society long after "peace" has been declared. Not to minimize the damages to soldiers, but the viewpoint of women shows that families and communities are also heavily damaged by these conflicts. Nobody wins. So here we are in 2011 approaching the anniversary of the Great War, World War I, which began on July 28, 1914,  with how many wars currently on the boards?


  1. Wars and rumors of wars... they have been around my entire life, so I cannot imagine what life would be like without this aspect. I wish I could find out, but I suspect I won't. Good book review, but I think I'll keep on reading books that take me away from reality...

  2. This sounds interesting. Most of the books I've read set in that time period avoid humanizing the German soldiers. I might have to try this one.

  3. Very moving post. Nobody wins in war but sometimes the evils of the world make it necessary anyway, which is not to minimize the damage it does.

  4. This sounds like a fabulous read for those of us who loved The Potato Peel Pie gang! Thank you for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere!