Title: The Soldier’s Wife
Author: Margaret Leroy
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship—and her family—safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger.”
Thoughts: Some novels are written in such a way that every sentence fills the reader with a sense of peace ad profound delight. The language may not be poetic per se, but the impression left upon the reader is one of simple beauty. Every word needs to be savored and every scene to be absorbed. The entire novel benefits from the melodious language, as does the reader. Margaret Leroy’s The Soldier’s Wife is one such novel.
Another story about the occupation of Guernsey during World War II, the topic could be construed as redundant and just a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Soldier’s Wife is anything but a copy. Rather than an outsider looking in, Ms. Leroy focuses her novel around Vivienne, mother and wife of a soldier and caretaker for her failing mother-in-law. The reader is able to get an intimate look at how islanders were able to survive with the severe rations, surrounded by enemies. More importantly, Vivienne’s experiences showcase just how easily the line between duty and morality, black and white, can blur during the confusion surrounding war.
Vivienne stands in as the symbol for anyone living in an occupied country. Even though the individual experiences may be different, the same conflicts continue to arise. At what point in time does friendliness towards the enemy become treason and a betrayal of one’s country? Is it as black and white as the enemy as the bad guy? Is the enemy to be afforded no civility because of the uniform he wears? As Vivienne gets drawn further and further in the gray areas of occupation, her struggles really begin. Is one to ignore all happiness for the sake of one’s duty to his or her country? Does someone have a moral obligation to fight against repression and barbarism once made aware of it? The questions are endless but handled with the utmost care and respect.
There is a depth to the novel that is not apparent on the surface. Combine that with the lush descriptions of the island and Vivienne’s hidden valley, and it is enough to entice the reader to sink down and just be swept under by the beautiful prose and thought-provoking story. Ms. Leroy balances the more melodramatic moments with gut-wrenchingly honest scenes that remind the reader all too brutally that war is not love and kindness. It is harsh and unfair; it is a scramble for survival.
The Soldier’s Wife is a welcome addition to the World War II canon, as it shares with the reader a relatively new perspective on occupation and the ambiguity that comes with it. Vivienne and the entire island of Guernsey simply come alive under Ms. Leroy’s pen. Beautifully written, it is worth reading as much for its descriptions as it is for the picture it presents and lessons shared about the difference between duty and morality.
Thank you to Bryan Christian from Hyperion Books for my review copy!