In this richly satisfying and utterly absorbing novel, Charlesworth achieves instant credibility with her command of detail and vivid evocations of place -- Marseilles, Paris, Meknes in Morocco and wartime Hamburg. I admired her economy of expression, for example, as the scared and travel-weary Ilse, waiting to be met at Marseilles's railway station, mingles in her thoughts both the guidebook she has absorbed and the current scene: "Greeks from Asia Minor had landed here twenty six centuries ago, dark men in galleys with long oars. Centuries passed. Another hour went by."
The Washington Post
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. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
British novelist Charlesworth (Foreign Exchange) creates an unforgettable heroine in Ilse, a young girl with a Jewish father and a Protestant mother in Germany near the beginning of World War II. When her father goes into hiding, Ilse is sent to live with a flamboyant uncle in Morocco. This sunny childhood interlude is cut short as war looms. Her uncle re-enlists in the Foreign Legion, and his calculating wife sends Ilse to her father in Paris. When the Nazis invade, they become refugees, and Ilse survives by falling in with the Resistance. In a contrapuntal story line, a German boy befriends a family servant in Hamburg who happens to be Ilse's mother. While his family deals with growing oppressions, shortages, and, ultimately, Allied bombings, Ilse assumes different identities and goes underground in southern France to avoid being taken prisoner. Charlesworth's prose masterfully sustains a tension between the sense of impending doom and the main characters' dreamy and often childlike perceptions. The novel powerfully conveys both the horror and the banality of war through adolescent eyes. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.-Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-In the spring of 1939, 13-year-old Ilse Blumenthal begins fending for herself as ordeal after ordeal arises, all stemming from Hitler's rise to power. Her mother sends her from Germany to her uncle's home in Algeria, but she ends up being sent back to her estranged father in France where events force her into many dire situations. At various times, Ilse works for the French underground, lives in a brothel, and tries to deal with her Bolshevik father, all the while searching for a way to reach her mother, Lore, in Germany. Ilse's story is paralleled by that of Nicolai Bucherer, whose nursemaid is Lore. Charlesworth carefully re-creates the experiences of her characters so that their emotions are transmitted without the total ferocity of the events described. She deftly orchestrates scenes, allowing events to carry the story forward through the ordeal of war. As Ilse's and Nicolai's abilities to understand mature, broader insights become more frequent and clearer, providing differing perspectives on the war and its effects. Well drawn, intensely compelling, and admirably crafted.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
“Richly satisfying and utterly absorbing. . . . Fascinating and original. . . . Charlesworth tells the story so artfully that she brings an utterly fresh perspective to bear on familiar psychological territory.” —Robert MacNeil, The Washington Post Book World“Breathlessly suspenseful. . . .[Charlesworth] moves her story through fast, terrifying intricacies of plot. . . . [Her] greatest success is to show how these children grow into morally mature adults, learning about treachery not just by seeing it around them, but by making difficult and sometimes terrible choices themselves. . . . Engrossing.” –The New York Times Book Review“Rich in local color and character detail. . . . Powerful and poignant. With her cinematic eye for description and her story's propulsive narrative rhythm, Charlesworth thrusts us into the very heart of chaos.” —The Boston Globe“In her evocative story of adolescents groping, without guide or compass, through the labyrinth of war, Charlesworth tells us hauntingly what happened to these children and how they struggled to survive.” —The Baltimore Sun