Tag Archives: Friendship

Helen Bryan – War Brides (2006)

war-brides-by-helen-bryanHelen Bryan’s novel opens in the present day with an elderly woman packing to get on a plane to Europe. Her distination is unknown, but we know that whoever she plans on seeing, she hasn’t seen in over 50 years.

The bulk of Bryan’s novel takes place 50 years earlier during the Second World War and follows the lives of four women, Evangeline who has eloped from New Orleans, Alice a spinster living in the English countryside, Elsie evacuated from London, Tanni who has fled Vienna, and Frances a high spirited society girl sent to live with her Godmother, as how their lives intersect as they all find themselves in Crowmarsh Priors for the war. The novel had a great set up, but fell rather flat and had an unsatisfying conclusion.

I won’t say too much more at risk of spoiling the book, but there is a lot of character development during the first half of the novel which is well done, but Bryan seems unsure of where to go from there. Each woman is introduced on her own and has a compelling backstory; Evangeline is the daughter of a planter in New Orleans and is having an illicit affair with her mulatto cousin, Elsie is a slum rat in London but clever nonetheless, and Tanni find herself married to a family friend studying at Oxford in order to escape Nazi occupied Austria. Once all the women find themselves in Crowmarsh priors, their stories get tiresome. The women’s stories end before the war does, and the epilogue tacked on to the end is sloppy and seems out of place. It feels as though Bryan was rushed in writing this in order to make a deadline or something. I was quite disappointed after what seemed like such a promising start to the story.

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Caroline Moorehead – A Train in Winter (2011)

ATraininWinterHow does one begin to explain the unexplainable? Convince others to believe the unbelievable horrors that awaited the women of the French Resistance, Les Convoi des 31000, once they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the hundreds of women sent to Nazi death camps only a handful survived to tell the story. This is their story.

This book was so hard to read, I found myself stunned at times needing to put it down. I couldn’t read too much in a day or else I would end up too depressed. While the first part details the involvement of the women in the French Resistance, the second part deals with their lives in Nazi death camps. The horrors they witnessed and the helplessness they felt watching their friends die.

Reading about the Holocaust however, and other historical atrocities should be uncomfortable and hard to read. Even though the death camps have been common knowledge to me ever since middle school, I don’t think I have ever really truly grasped the full extent of the horror, nor do I think I ever will. Moorehead writes in so much detail about the conditions in the camps, the rampant disease and lice, the lack of food and emaciated bodies, the cold, the mud, the wet, and still I cannot begin to comprehend that anyone was able to survive this for 2 and a half years. Most did not, but some did.

Moorehead’s story is optimistic about the strength of women’s friendship and their lasting bond. She interviewed as many surviving women as she could and writes that no one would have been able to survive in the camps on their own. They all stuck together and helped one another, pooling rations, hiding sick or injured women, as much as they could. Moorhead also writes that “The French as a national group were more cohesive than other nationalities and more prone to look after their own.” She credits the survival of a number of women to this fact.

While Mooreheads story is one of women, friendship and survival it does not necessarily have a happy ending. The women who survived had returned to France but discovered that they had forgotten how to live. Many came home as widows, finding out that their husbands who were also involved in resistance activities were shot, or to children who did not even recognize them. Combined with the nightmares of the camps and the lack of a support network, many of these women withdrew into themselves finding it impossible to be happy again. While life went on, many women could not. Survivor Charlotte Delbo wrote, “Looking at me, one would think that I’m alive … I’m not alive. I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it.”

Moorehead’s book shed important light on the important role that women played during the Second World War through their involvement with the French Resistance, and the sobering reality that many paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to their country. She deals briefly with the aftermath of the war, and the treatment of war crimes in France, but her main focus us on Les Convoi des 3100, the 42 women who managed to survive out of the 230 that did not.

Rating: 4.5/5