30 September 2010

Edith's War

By Andrew Smith
Published by Axiom Publishing Inc.
Copy courtesy of Andrew Smith

Edith Maquire got married because Joe Maguire was off to war and he wanted somebody to come home to. It all sounded terribly romantic to young Edith, so she agreed. Now, Joe is at war and pregnant Edith is living in Shrimpley with Joe's mother and younger brother.

It's 1940. The Maquires' war is okay for them so far; they have chickens in the yard and food in the kitchen. Liam Maquire, full of youth and propaganda, starts trouble with his Italian neighbours. But the Maquires and Baccanellos will have none of it; long-time friends and neighbours - and far out of the reach of the cities - they believe they will remain friends and neighbours for some time to come.

However, within hours of Mussolini's declaration of war against Britain, Winston Churchill issues an internment order against Italians living in Britain, and the Baccanello males are scooped up and taken away for the duration of the war.

It's 2002. Will and Shamus Maquire, children of Edith Maguire, are strolling the streets of Venice awaiting the arrival of their eighty-three-year-old mother. It's to be a reunion of sorts, at Edith's behest.

The book goes back and forth between Edith's life during WW II and her sons wondering why their mother wants to see them. Smith does a credible job of putting the internment of Britain's Italians under the microscope covering everything from the torpedoing of the Arandora Star on its way to Canada to internment camps in Liverpool, helping to shed light on a little-discussed topic.

The lives of those left to live out the war is also examined, and we discover that the definitions of proper and acceptable behaviour change the longer the war goes on.

Andrew Smith has written a totally believable novel, creating wonderful characters in a beautifully written narrative. Recommended for both those who like history and those who like good fiction.

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