Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley

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Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A gripping saga set in World War II. Every angle of the war is skilfully examined through the eyes of a different family member in a wonderfully evocative and accurate way. Great stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 347 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 1406304077

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Ellen and Matthias married after World War I. Ellen, an English nurse, saved the life of a German prisoner of war - Matthias. They fell in love, and he never returned to Germany. Twenty years on and they are living in the English countryside with their three children. Matthias runs a garage and by and large fits in with the local community. They faced hostility at first but they stuck it out and these days Matthias' nationality is rarely an issue with his neighbours. However, Walter, the couple's oldest son, feels as though he doesn't belong. Neither English nor German, he feels like an outsider. And he takes it out on his father. And now Mr Hitler is running Germany, things can only get worse.

I was riveted by Divided Loyalties. It follows the Voglers from 1935 to 1946, right the way through the Second World War. Each member of the family gets a turn as narrator, and each one of them is a fully-fleshed, credible character, not just a parrot for a point of view, as could so easily have been the case. Walter - the oldest, angry, son - is perhaps the most vital character in the book. He is full of resentment, largely founded on the fact that his father is German, but compounded by the family's increasing wealth. Walter's younger brother and sister seem more indulged and provided for than he ever was. They seem to suffer less from having a "Jerry" father than he did. And of course this does nothing but fuel his alienation.

Matthias, the father, sees this only too clearly, but is powerless to prevent it happening and soon enough his failure to take British citizenship lands him with his own troubles. Interned as an enemy alien, Matthias spends the early part of the war with critical issues of his own. Ellen, the mother, finds herself caught squarely in the middle of father and son, but clings grimly on to her love for them both. Helmut, the German cousin who idolises Hitler and who rises swiftly through the ranks of the Hitler Youth, finds dawning realisation utterly crushing as the Russian front decimates his comrades.

It's a novel of startling resonance. The history is accurate, nobody betrays a trace of twenty-first century sensibilities and wartime Britain comes alive on the pages. While fascism is thoroughly excoriated, much attention is paid to the effects of the RAF's bombing campaigns on the Axis civilian populations. When Walter bails out over Germany, he is called a terror bomber by locals. It isn't a one-sided tale hiding behind the window dressing of a mixed marriage - it's a genuine attempt to bring these times to young readers. And it does a marvellous job.

There is an earlier book, Ellen's People, telling the story of Ellen and Matthias and World War I, and I can happily recommend it without even having read it - however, you certainly don't need to read it yourself before embarking on Divided Loyalties. It stands alone perfectly well, and there is barely a shred of exposition.

My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.

If they enjoy historical fiction, they might also like Hazel by Julie Hearn or Anila's Journey by Mary Finn.

Buy Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley at Amazon.com.


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