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The Children's Warby Monique Charlesworth
Synopses & Reviews
In the spring of 1939, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, a girl sits in a waiting room in Marseilles. Ilse is half Jewish; her mother has sent her out of Germany to a place she hopes will afford her daughter absolute safety. But instead, Ilse's journey takes her deep into the landscape of war: first to Morocco, then to Paris under the threat of Nazi invasion. Traveling across borders, blown by circumstances beyond her control, Ilse must use her wits to survive an enemy occupation, one that steals away her name and sense of self, making even her own language taboo.
At the same time, in Germany, a boy struggles with his place in the Hitler Youth. Despite the comforts of his Hamburg home, Nicolai comes to feel that he is a stranger in his own land. As his mother takes up with another man, Nicolai finds emotional refuge in a growing attachment to his beautiful new nursemaid, a woman of silences and sorrows. Gradually, he draws out her secret: she has a child whom she fears may be lost to her forever. That child is Ilse.
The Children's War evokes wartime lives and places with astonishing immediacy: the labyrinthine bazaars of Meknès; Hamburg's cellars packed with civilians during air raids; the salt tang of Marseilles, where prostitutes and gangsters live side by side with freedom fighters and refugees. We meet "Swing Boys" sneaking tobacco and home-distilled liquor in illicit jazz cafés, and young soldiers stirring pea soup beside tents on the sandy Baltic coast.
Meticulously researched, yet also a vivid work of imagination, The Children's War re-creates the landscape of World War II in a new and utterly unforgettable way. Interweaving the stories of Ilse and of Nicolai, it is a gripping tale of adventure, loyalty, love and betrayal; of disappointment and hope; of parents and children trying to protect one another; of self-discovery. It is a stunning novel.
"Ilse, a sensitive German girl of mixed parentage (a Jewish father and a Christian mother), is 13 when WWII erupts in this moving, morally nuanced and accomplished historical novel. Terrified that Ilse will be discovered as half-Jewish, her mother, Lore, sends her away to Morocco to live with Ilse's charming Uncle Willy. In her attentive, lively uncle, Ilse finds a father figure she could never have in her real father, Otto, who is a passionate but myopic Bolshevik and ineffectual parent. But soon France is invaded by Germany, Willy enrolls in the French Foreign Legion and Ilse is sent to her father, who is now living in Paris. Although Otto is himself fleeing from the Gestapo, he has made a promise to his estranged wife to look after Ilse. Meanwhile, working as a nursemaid in Hamburg, Lore agonizes over the decisions she's made, wondering whether she'll ever see her daughter again. Nicolai, one of Lore's charges in the privileged household she serves, is the same age as Ilse. Secretly disgusted by the Nazis, Nicolai is mesmerized by Lore and eventually wins her trust, convincing her to reveal her secrets. After Otto is arrested, Ilse learns to fend for herself in Paris and later Marseilles, where she joins the Resistance, and Nicolai copes with starvation and air raids in a Hamburg that increasingly is like a vision of hell. Charlesworth beautifully shows how the small weaknesses of good people are magnified when the stakes are high, creating flawed but deeply sympathetic characters. This is an alternately haunting and tender portrait of the lives of innocents caught in the relentless, random path of war. Agent, Sterling Lord. (Sept. 12) Forecast: The plight of adolescents coming of age in wartime has inspired many distinguished novels (Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire is a recent standout). This is a strong addition to the genre and an excellent crossover option for older YA readers. 35,000 first printing." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Moving....With Ilse as unblinking guide, Charlesworth travels the morally ambiguous alleyways of war to create a deeply satisfying read full of richly complicated characters." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[G]ripping....The characters are complex and engaging and make this novel stand out from other similar stories." Booklist
"Children never write the histories of war, and yet it is their lives — so malleable, so vulnerable — that are often most changed by it. By shifting her gaze to a child's eye view, Monique Charlesworth has given us a completely original retelling of some of the familiar stories of World War II. A literary page turner, vivid, engaging and suspenseful." Geraldine Brooks, author of Year of Wonders
"In this absorbing story of children who have to grow up too fast and parents who are less than perfect, Monique Charlesworth explores, with sensitivity and insight, the poignant drama of youth in a time of war. Vividly detailed, historically informed and emotionally restrained, The Children's War breathes a well-earned authenticity, even as it recounts circumstances that test human character to belief-defying limits." Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation
"[A]n unforgettable heroine....Charlesworth's prose masterfully sustains a tension between the sense of impending doom and the main characters' dreamy and often childlike perceptions....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"In this vivid and panoramic novel, objects take on emblematic powers. A gift of polished silver foretells a family's dissolution; letters torn to shreds reveal a father's tragic incapacity. One rejoices in the wealth of detail, and, above all, the moral agility of the irresistible red-headed Ilse — her tender and triumphant awareness, and her capacity to unpuzzle and survive the lethal mazes of Nazism. The Children's War is a wonderful novel." Rikki Ducornet, author of Gazelle
Interweaving the stories of Ilse, a half-Jewish girl, and Nicolai, a Hitler Youth, The Children's War is a gripping, unforgettable story of growing up in a world gone mad.
About the Author
Monique Charlesworth was born in Birkenhead, England, and has lived in France and Germany. She began writing fiction while living in Hong Kong and is the author of three previous novels. She has worked as a journalist and as a screenwriter for both film and television. She lives with her husband and two children in London.
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