4 out of 4 stars
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Barbara Ridley’s historical fiction novel, When It’s Over, is a beautifully written story centered around the political situation in England during World War II. Based on a true story, it’s shown through the eyes of Lena, a young Jewish woman from Czechoslovakia.
Lena meets Otto, a German escapee who is active in intelligence gathering, in a small café in Prague in 1938 where she comes to hear news of the fighting on the front line. Swept away by her belief in the left-wing activists and their fight against Hitler, she moves with Otto to Paris to continue his work.
As Hitler steadily works his way through Europe, Lena fears for her family, especially her mother and younger sister, still in Prague. Reuniting with Otto in England, Lena has to learn to make a life of her own in a foreign country. With propaganda on every side, no one is sure of the truth of what’s happening in Europe, and Lena’s worry grows. With her growing political awareness and her changing relationship with Otto, she comes to learn that nothing is certain in war-torn England. With all this uncertainty, will she ever be able to find her family again?
Set in Prague, Paris, and England, during the years 1938 to 1945, this book is different in many ways from other war-based stories which I have read. This looks at the various political beliefs of young people during this time, as they lose their trust in their leaders’ capabilities and war tactics. While this may make the story sound a bit dry, it is anything but.
Beautifully written in third person, the fact that this is based on true happenings makes the story even more poignant. Lena is a wonderfully written main character with an innocence and naivety about her, especially at the beginning, which is very realistic. Her development was great to read, as she started to grow in both her courage and her own views, determined to make something of her life. Otto comes across realistically as an avid believer in his own personal views, determined that everyone should think the same as him. I tended to not like him very much by the end, but could easily see how his behaviour was a reaction to his circumstances. The other characters were all three dimensional and believable, from Muriel, an English gentlewoman who was rebelling against her own society to do her bit to help escaping Europeans, to Eva, Lena’s friend, who was focused on herself and improving her own situation, no matter who it hurt.
An interesting perspective shown here was how the English public reacted to propaganda concerning “foreigners”. I found it heartbreaking that these people who had been through so much to get to the safety of England, were only then to face mass hysteria by people thinking that just because they had an accent it meant that they were a spy for Hitler.
With difficult subjects touched on in this book such as gas chambers, the Holocaust, death, and grief, the author never let it get too overwhelming. The writing was in a clear, easy to read style, and I found no editorial mistakes. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. It’s a coming of age story about family, love, politics, grief, and hardship in a war-torn country. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with an interest in World War II, as well as those who like stories based on true happenings. A brilliant novel which is obviously written from the heart.
When It's Over
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