Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife, by Maggie Brookes

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780593197752, May 2020

This is based on a true story from World War II, as improbable as it seems.

It's 1944, and Izabella is a twenty-year-old farm girl. Her father and older brother have joined the partisans; Izzy, her mother, and her younger brother, Marek,are left alone on the farm.

Izzy's mother, fortunately, was always the farmer in the family; it's her family's farm, and Izzy's father was a musician. But with only Izzy and her mother to do the heavy work, it is a struggle. When Nazi officer Captain Meier shows up and says he can bring a work crew--prisoners from the Allied forces--her mother accepts.

It's a team of five captured British soldiers. They don't come every day, but for every major job the farm has. Among the prisoners is William King, and he and Izzy are quickly drawn to each other.

They have to be very, very careful.

They fall in love. They make the dangerous decision to marry in secret and escape to join the partisans.

They manage the secret marriage. They manage the escape.

It's almost two weeks before they're caught, by Nazi guards with tracking dogs.

Izzy is dressed as a boy, and they have concocted a false identity including a serial number for a young British solder who possibly lied about his age to enlist.

They now face months, possibly years, as POWs while the Germans know they're slowly but surely losing the war. And of course, they have to hide the fact that Izzy is a woman. They manage to enlist some of their fellow prisoners, but it's still an additional danger on top of the dangers and privations of the German camps.

What follows is a harrowing tale that Brookes makes all to real and challenging to read--even though I'm sure this may be softened quite a bit from the reality of the lived experience. They, their friends, and other fellow prisoners experience starvation, overwork, illness, and filth. And at any point, they could be injured, killed, or Izzy discovered to be a woman. We see their characters grow and develop, even as their chances of survival shrink, while the reader but not the prisoners know exactly how long they have to survive till Allied forces arrive and they can be freed. That is, if they are still alive.

As mentioned above, this is based on a true story, and Brookes makes it very compelling. Recommended.

I received an electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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