Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes

In The Prisoner's Wife, Izabela is a Czechoslovakian farm girl and Bill is a British prisoner of war. It's 1944 as the story opens. Bill is one of a half dozen prisoners brought to help with work on the farm where Izzy lives and works with her mother and younger brother and it's love at first sight when Bill and Izabela's eyes meet. Izzy finds ways to get closer to Bill and starts learning English so she can communicate with him better. And, then they secretly marry, deciding to run away with the hope that they can meet up with the partisans and join the resistance against the Nazis.

Thinking the Russians are coming soon and Izzy will be safer dressed as a boy, Bill cuts her hair and she dresses in her older brother's clothing. But, when they're caught and sent to a prison camp for soldiers, every moment is fraught with danger. How will Izzy keep her secret from the Nazis? If she's caught, she will undoubtedly be thought a spy and shot.

Based loosely on a true story, in The Prisoner's Wife, Maggie Brookes has created a harrowing tale of love, danger, and the horrors of war, a story in which a woman's identity is kept secret with the help of courageous men willing to risk their own lives to keep her alive.

Highly recommended - I don't use the word "harrowing" lightly. I found The Prisoner's Wife a difficult and exhausting read because the vast majority of it is about the couple's time in a prison camp, a work camp, and then taking a "long walk" to keep the prisoners from joining up with the Russians when they close in on the prison camp. It was gripping but nerve-wracking enough that I had to occasionally take breaks, walk away and do something like step outside to feel the breeze or paint or just goof online, and then I'd return to the book. I don't know why I found this particular story so much harder to read than other WWII stories. I've been reading them all my life, after all. Maybe it was because I cared about the couple and so desperately wanted them to survive. At any rate, after the long march I felt frostbitten and hungry and sad for the lives lost, in awe of the danger people are willing to face to help each other and a little sad at the interplay of good and evil, a thing that never changes. A moving tale that I'll be thinking about for a long time.

One side note: The story is told using alternating viewpoints. One chapter will be told in 3rd person (Bill's viewpoint but not his voice) and the next in 1st (from Izzy's viewpoint). I did find that a little bit jarring but it was never what I would call problematic. The shifts just interrupted the flow a bit. I presume the purpose was to tell both sides of the love story, male and female, and in that way I do believe it was effective.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy!

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