Postcards from No Man's Land

Postcards from No Man's Land

4.1 14
by Aidan Chambers

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What happens to Jacob Todd when he visits his grandfather's grave at the annual commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem is paralleled in time by events of the dramatic day in World War 2 when retreating troops were sheltered by the family of Geertrui Van Riet. Geertrui, now an old lady, reveals secrets to Jacob in contemporary Amsterdam which completely overturn his…  See more details below


What happens to Jacob Todd when he visits his grandfather's grave at the annual commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem is paralleled in time by events of the dramatic day in World War 2 when retreating troops were sheltered by the family of Geertrui Van Riet. Geertrui, now an old lady, reveals secrets to Jacob in contemporary Amsterdam which completely overturn his view of himself and his country, and lead him to question his very place in the world.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Winner of both the prestigious Michael L. Printz Award and Britain's Carnegie Medal, Aidan Chambers's sophisticated and rewarding Postcards from No Man's Land weaves together past and present, connecting the experiences of two Jacob Todds -- a deceased war hero and his teenage grandson -- across time and place.

Seventeen-year-old Jacob Todd goes to Amsterdam to honor the memory of his grandfather, a soldier who died in the WWII Battle of Arnhem. Shortly after arriving in the city, Jacob is robbed by a transvestite and forced to stay with the outspoken grandson of Geertrui, the woman who cared for Jacob's grandfather during the war. During his stay, Jacob comes to learn more about Amsterdam, his own sexuality, the history of WWII in the Netherlands, and the remarkable Geertrui, whose wartime experiences unfold in a compelling parallel story line.

As she lies dying of cancer, Geertrui discusses her life as a young woman during the Nazi occupation, including the tale of how she tended to -- and fell in love with -- Jacob's grandfather. But as the old woman prepares for her assisted suicide, she confesses a deep secret that brings their worlds closer than young Jacob ever could have imagined.

Chambers's novel is multilayered and thought-provoking, covering many difficult topics in its sophisticated, often surprising plot. The book is filled with contrasts and connections between Jacob's experiences in contemporary Amsterdam and the wartime history of Holland, and the author even uses the Dutch language and Amsterdam itself to link Jacob to the past and to his own self-discovery. A remarkable read for teens and young adults, this is one award winner that lives up to its hype. Matt Warner

Publishers Weekly
"Jam-packed with ideas and passionate characters, this sophisticated novel entwines two narratives, one centered on Jacob and set in mid-1990s Amsterdam and the other in 1944 during the Battle of Arnheim," said PW in our Best Books citation. Ages 14-up. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Author of The Toll Bridge (HarperCollins, 1995/VOYA February 1996), Chambers won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 2000 for this latest novel. The moving and multilayered story about families, secrets, war, and coming-of-age interweaves two parallel stories. In the first, seventeen-year-old Jacob Todd arrives in Holland from his home in London to attend a memorial service for victims of the World War II battle of Arnhem. His grandfather, also named Jacob Todd, was wounded in that battle and was sheltered and cared for by a Dutch family, particularly by the daughter, Geertrui. The second story is Geertrui's tale of those last months of the war, as she hides Jacob from the Nazis, cares for his wounds, and inevitably, falls in love with him. Young Jacob's story includes his obsession with Anne Frank's diary, his exploration of Amsterdam, and his growing sense of himself, his past, and his sexuality. He finds himself in the midst of a crisis in Geertrui's family as well. Geertrui's cancer is terminal, and she has decided to have an assisted death. Her daughter, Tessel, and her grandson, Daan, have their own issues with young Jacob's presence at this difficult time, but Geertrui has invited him and has even written down her story of the war years expressly for him to read. The novel builds in intensity and depth and ends without all of the loose ends tied neatly. This novel is beautifully written, emotionally touching, and intellectually challenging. The first person Jacob meets in Amsterdam hands him a matchbook with a message that could apply to the book: "Be prepared. Nothing in Amsterdam is what it appears to be."
— Sarah Flowers
Jacob, a 17-year-old English boy, has come to Amsterdam to honor the memory of his namesake grandfather at a memorial service for British soldiers who fought against the German occupation of the Netherlands in WW II. This grandfather was wounded at Arnhem, and though a Dutch girl tended him lovingly, he died in Holland. There are two alternating narratives in this intricately plotted tale: that of shy, insecure, present-day Jacob learning about Amsterdam and Dutch customs, making new friends, and finding out more about himself and his family's past; and the journal of Geertrui, the 19-year-old girl who cared for his grandfather. In the present, Jacob has his money swiped, meets fascinating characters like brash Daan and his attractive gay friend Ton, and finds himself a girlfriend—at his grandfather's grave. In Geertrui's narrative, we learn about the privations of life in occupied Holland, the awfulness of battle and the youth and bravery of the soldiers. Geertrui defies her parents and takes wounded Jacob into hiding in the countryside with her, where they become lovers. The connection between the two narratives becomes clear toward the end when Jacob meets Geertrui, on her death-bed, and learns about how his family and hers are linked. Winner of the UK's Carnegie Medal, this is a complex and thought provoking novel. Geertrui's narrative, with its drama of love and war, is the more exciting, but Jacob's present-day journey toward knowledge and self-acceptance is also intriguing, as he tries to understand his own sexuality and the sexual openness of his new friends and learns more about love, art, and life. For sophisticated, mature YA readers. Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults.
— Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
This book received international acclaim after its 1999 publication in Europe. Older teens on this side of the Atlantic now have a chance to read the two complex and challenging narratives intertwined in this beautifully written novel. When 17-year-old Jacob travels solo from England as his grandmother's representative at a ceremony in the Netherlands commemorating the World War II Battle of Arnhem, he is transformed. Jacob is intrigued and excited by new ideas engendered by initially bewildering experiences: the strangely disturbing Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, new acquaintances who cross gender lines, and, most of all, the imminent assisted death of the elderly lady who was his grandfather's wartime nurse and has kept in contact with his family. This frail Dutchwoman, the second narrator, has her own startling tale to tell, recalling in detail her short but passionate relationship with another Jacob long ago, when the whole world seemed to be burning and when serious, irrevocable choices were made in haste. The protagonists in these coming-of-age stories face real-world decisions involving love, sexuality, and friendship, linking the teenagers across time and generations, and leading to a conclusion as convincing as it is absorbing and thought-provoking. -Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Seventeen-year-old Jacob Todd has come from England to Amsterdam to honor his grandfather, also named Jacob Todd, a British soldier who fought and died in Holland in 1944. Early on, Jacob is robbed, meets a sexy woman who turns out to be a man, is helped by a kind older woman, and finds himself on the doorstep of his cousin Daan. Jacob's journey is paralleled by the story of Geertrui van Riet, his Dutch grandmother. Geertrui is old now and dying of cancer, and she wants Jacob to know her story, which is also the story of his grandfather. "It matters that you know your place in the world," she tells Jacob. Jacob's grandfather is the connecting link in the dual narratives of this novel; though he had a family back home in England, he fell in love with Geertrui, and their relationship has become part of young Jacob's inheritance. Chambers's Carnegie Medal-winning work is a rich, complex story that tackles big themes: time, death, happiness, love, sex, war, and the meaning of life. It covers much ground, from WWII to the present, from Anne Frank to Ben Jonson to Rembrandt and his son Titus. Jacob realizes that finding his place in the world involves understanding the past, observing life with complete attention, and holding onto ideals. "You have to know your own truth and stick to it. And never despair. Never give up. There's always hope." This is a wide-ranging, challenging, beautifully written novel for older teenagers and adults who love to settle into a big, rewarding story.

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.57(w) x 8.22(h) x 0.99(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

"Sophisticated teenage readers yearning for a wider view of life may find themselves intoxicated by this Carnegie Medal-winning novel." (Publishers Weekly, starred review.
"Moving and multilayered . . . this novel is beautifully written, emotionally touching, and intellectually challenging." (VOYA)

Meet the Author

Aidan Chambers is an author of novels and plays. Born in the north of England, he worked as a high school teacher for eleven years, during which time he was also a monk for seven years, before he left both teaching and the monastery to establish himself as a full-time author. He has written for many newspapers and journals as well as television and radio, and is well known as a writer and lecturer on the nature and value of reading and literature. In 1969 he and his American wife Nancy founded Thimble Press, which publishes books about children's literature and the magazine 'SIGNAL: Approaches to Children's Books', internationally recognized as one of the most important in its field. His books are published in many languages. Among other prizes, his novel Postcards From No Man's Land was honored with the Carnegie Medal, Britain's most prestigious recognition for children's and youth literature, and the Italian Andersen Award. He is also the recipient of The Children's Literature Association Award for excellence in literary criticism, and the British Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding services to children's books. He is currently writing the sixth and last of his youth novels which make a family Sequence, a body of work he describes on the BOOKS page of his Web site.

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