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March 23, 2010


Owen Sheers - ISBN9780307385833

This subtle and emotionally charged book explores the give and take of humans in the venue of the hypothetical occupation of Great Britain after the failure of Operation Overlord--the D-Day invasion of Europe. Sheers describes a beautiful, serene, and sparsely inhabited Welsh valley not yet entered by the enemy. There are gorgeous descriptions of a fairy-tale-like remote countryside. Into this milieu comes a Nazi patrol on a mission. All of the men of the valley have disappeared to join the resistance movement, leaving behind the women and children now faced with the awesome task of enduring these difficult times without male participation, never mind security and companionship. In this hard-scrabble farming community all is left to the women, who must undertake tasks they are all but physically unable to do, added to their already consuming chores.

The patrol occupies a vacated farm, the former home of an old man and several sons gone to places unknown. The Germans are tasked to search for a map--an important English artifact the Nazis wish to discover. They are also to report on the regional resistance activities. Wearied by five years of uninterrupted combat they settle in, and with the ensuing, worst winter in living memory they are isolated from command. They blend into the situation, relieved to be left out of the war, however temporarily.

There is a gritty account of the women keeping up the home front, interacting with the patrol as required. Originally there is the anticipated hubris of the Germans, but over time the soldiers begin to assist the women in their endeavors. A wary cooperation is achieved. In so doing they rediscover an all but forgotten life where an absence fear marries a plentitude of meaningful activity assisting the women.

There are vivid descriptions of place, dialect, attitudes, and the interaction of the two cultures within easy walking distance of each other. There is a felt requirement to resist, but the women cannot fully do so since they desperately need the help. The necessity of survival and preservation of home and livelihood tempers their inclination to reject the men. The narrative explores the way of life in remote areas with few, but good and responsible friends and neighbors, which is no longer possible since existence is unimaginable without the help of the soldiers.

This interdependence results in some near-family types of interaction and several involving a reluctant physical attraction. The wounds, insecurities and tragedies of war are exposed. The well educated officer in charge of the patrol enjoys, with one of the women, discussions of the local myth: that of an ancient Welsh army "sleeping" about, to be wakened in the case of need, and another tale of an old "poet" who, in living memory, sought out the peace of the valley to established a redoubt for scholarly pursuits. The officer and the presumably widowed woman become emotionally involved, which leads to some difficulty with the others, and especially with the residents of the nearby village.

Eventually winter ends and the German occupation reasserts itself. The horrors of Nazi cruelty are brought to the fore, along with hostile native resistance, which complicates the situation for the couple, and leads to a wrenching dilemma for both. The plot ends with a not unexpected yet still unfulfilling climax which is altogether consistent with the primary plot thrust . . . the tragedies of war.

Posted by Curmudgeon at March 23, 2010 1:15 PM