WWW Wednesday is hosted by Taking on a World of Words
The Three Ws are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
The Summer School may not be on my immediate horizon but given how much else is going on at the moment I am already starting to prepare. Although I am only officially down to lead one of the discussions I always have to be ready to jump in and take over should there be any last minute problems with the other two. This means not only reading all three of the novels in great detail but also checking out other books by the chosen writers which might have a bearing on the works we are considering. I will be leading the session on William Brodrick’s third novel, A Whispered Name and so with that in mind I am re-reading his first, The Sixth Lamentation and will go on to look again at his second, The Gardens of the Dead.
The Sixth Lamentation is our introduction to Father Anselm, a monk of the Gilbertine Order, who, in his previous life, was a London based barrister. When an elderly man turns up at Larkwood Priory, now Anselm’s home, asking for sanctuary the monks are disturbed to discover that he is being sought as a Nazi war criminal. Their immediate thought is to deny his request, partly because the law of sanctuary no longer holds force, but also because of the outrage they know they will face if they do take him in. However, pressure both from secular and Church powers is put on them to keep the fugitive within the confines of the Priory until further investigations can take place. Anselm is desperate to be involved in trying to uncover the truth of the matter, but when he suddenly receives a summons to the Vatican he realises that there is more going on than he had bargained for and that it is not only the Church’s current reputation that is at stake.
Running parallel to this strand is the wartime story told by the now elderly Agnes of the suffering of those Jews who were taken from France during the German occupation and of the betrayal experienced by one particular group trying to help Jewish children escape to Switzerland. In the manner in which books so often do seem to ‘talk’ to each other, this is very closely linked to what I have…..
Our book group read this week was Bart Van Es’s Costa winning biography, The Cut-Out Girl. Van Es is a Professor of Early Modern Literature at Oxford but his most recent book catalogues his attempts to learn more about his family’s background in Holland during the Second World War and in particular their relationship with Lien, a young Jewish girl whom they sheltered and helped to save from the Nazi Concentration Camps. Her family having been wiped out, Lien asks to go back to the Van Es home after the war and continues to live with them until she leaves school and goes to train to work with children. However, at some point in the years that follow she and the family become estranged and having made contact with the now eighty year old Lien, Van Es sets out to try and discover what lay behind the breach.
Perhaps inevitably, one of the things that we found ourselves discussing was the effect that the marketing machine surrounding Anne Frank has had on our understanding of what happened to the Jews, and particularly Jewish children, during the occupation of Holland. While both Lien and Anne were sheltered by incredibly brave individuals, the stark fact is that over eighty percent of Dutch Jews died during the course of the war, more than double the number in any other western country and many of them were betrayed by people they had looked on as neighbours and friends. From the distance of over seventy years, Anne Frank’s story can become romanticised. There is nothing romantic about the memories that Lien offers to Van Es.
The breach in the relationship is, in some ways, nothing to do with those traumatic years and yet the very fact that Lien’s experiences have left her finding it hard to know who she is and how she might relate to those around her, that she has, in fact, become ‘the cut-out girl’, does perhaps play a part. It is only after she has shed herself of relationships that are never going to work, set herself up in Amsterdam and visited Auschwitz to pay homage to the memory of her lost family, that she begins to understand who she is and who she can be.
The library has just sent me an email to say that my reservation of Tom Rachman’s Costa shortlisted novel, The Italian Teacher has come in, so I will probably pick that up tomorrow and begin it at some point over the weekend. And, continuing with my Summer School preparation I shall start my reread of the second of Rennie Airth’s John Madden books, The Blood-Dimmed Tide. The Reckoning, which is the Summer School novel, is the fourth in the series and I’m intending to revisit all three of the preceding books and, if I have time, the fifth one as well. Number six, The Decent Inn of Death, isn’t published until next year.