Saturday, 11 September 2010

War on the Margins

Title: War on the Margins

Author: Libby Cone

Number of pages: 251

Started: 8 September 2010

Finished: 11 September 2010

Opening words:

Chapter 1

St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands

Marlene Zimmer dropped into the chair in her sitting room with the paper, knowing what it would say before she opened it:

The Jersey Evening Post

21 October 1940

“First Order relating to measures against Jews:

“Concerning the Registration of Jews in Jersey

“In pursuance of an Order of the Chief of the German Military Administration in France (registered by Act of the Royal Court, dated October 21st, 1940), and in virtue of the power delegated to me by the Bailiff, all Jews must present themselves for registration at the Aliens Office, No. 6 Hill Street, St. Helier, on Wednesday and Thursday, October 23rd and 24th, 1940, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“For the purposes of this Order, persons are deemed to be Jews who belong or have belonged to the Jewish religion or who have more than two Jewish grandparents.

“Grandparents who belong or have belonged to the Jewish religion are deemed to be Jews.

“The particulars to be provided upon registration are: --


“2.Christian name.

“3. Date of birth.

“4.Place of birth

“5. Sex.

“6. Family status.


“8. Religious faith.

“9.Length of uninterrupted residence in the Island.

“The declaration of the head of the family will suffice for the whole family.


“Chief Aliens Officer”

Read the first chapter here.

Plot summary:

France has fallen to the Nazis. Britain is under siege. As BBC bulletins grow bleak, residents of Jersey abandon their homes in their thousands. When the Germans take over, Marlene Zimmer, a shy clerk at the Aliens Office, must register her friends and neighbours as Jews while concealing her own heritage, until eventually she is forced to flee. Layers of extraordinary history unfold as we chart Marlene's transformation from unassuming office worker to active Resistance member under the protection of artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who manage to find poetry in the midst of hardship and unimaginable danger. Drawn from authentic World War II documents, broadcasts and private letters, War on the Margins tells the unforgettable story of the deepening horror of the Nazi regime in Jersey and the extraordinary bravery of those who sought to subvert it.

What I thought:

When I go away on holiday I like to read book that is based where I am staying. When I went to Jersey at Easter this year, I looked for a book on Jersey but couldn’t find one so had to settle for a book based in Guernsey. However, the author of this book, Libby Cone, contacted me about her book and sent me a copy.

While I was in Jersey I was shocked by what I learned about the occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War and I thought this book captured well the difficult decisions that people had to make, and incredibly trying and at times desperate situations. People made their decisions, for good or bad, and sometimes only time would tell the consequences of those decisions.

I thought the book also nicely developed the story around two women who were not only stepsisters but also lovers (this is a fictionalised version of a true story, although it seemed to be drawn from documents that remain from that time). I found that really interesting as well, particularly because while I was on Jersey I had seen an exhibition of the women’s photos and it was good to read more about them and what they might have experienced during the war.

I though this perfectly complimented my trip to Jersey and would have been the perfect book to have read during my trip. It is not the most cheery of reads, but it brings home the reality of Jersey during the occupation and shows what happened through the lives of a number of people who were affected in different ways by being under Nazi rule. A fascinating read.

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