The Beautiful Truth by Belinda Seaward

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The Beautiful Truth by Belinda Seaward

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Set in the present day and wartime Poland, two parallel stories are linked by relatives and images of the stars and horses. A moving and well crafted story - and one of those relatively rare things - a war themed book that will appeal to the female reader with its focus on love, horses and relationships.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2012
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 9780719521119

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There are two parallel story lines in Belinda Seaward's The Beautiful Truth: one set in the present day and one in wartime Poland. Both involve love stories and personal struggles, and there are repeating themes such as horses and the stars that effectively provide links between the two in this clearly well-researched and engrossing narrative.

Cambridge academic, Catherine, whose Polish father disappeared from her life when she was just twelve years old, is contacted by an American film-maker who has been conducting research into wartime experiences, particularly based on his aunt, Krystyna whose childhood friend turns out to have been Catherine's father, Janek. It is Krystyna's story of her flight from the family home from the Russian invasion, to her eventual involvement with the Home Army resistance movement against the German occupation that forms the second, and dominant, thread of the story.

Seaward adopts different styles for both elements of the narrative, both of which are equally gripping. Even the use of the present tense in the Catherine storyline, which is a style that I usually dislike and find somewhat alienating, works well here. However, it is Krystyna's story that is the most moving and interesting.

Catherine's life in Cambridge includes a particularly unhealthy relationship with her alcoholic and domineering former lecturer, who takes no encouragement to put poor Catherine down at any opportunity. One could say they are poles apart, although it might be better not to here. Her emerging feelings for the married film-maker, Konrad, are understandable and probably a whole lot healthier for Catherine, but no matter how well this story is told, against Krystyna's life experiences, these inevitably appear a little on the trivial side. That's no fault of the author's though - it's just that if you put these two stories next to each other, Catherine's troubles which on their own appear compelling, in the context of wartime struggles seem somehow less urgent. It's also slightly disappointing that Catherine's message seems to be that she will only leave her partner, Dominic, if she has someone else to go to when Dominic is so clearly bad for her emotionally. She's not married to him, by the way.

And for all the linking motifs and the family relationships between Janek/Catherine and Krystyna/Konrad, the two stories remain in parallel rather than coming together particularly. Indeed, for all the romantic tension between Konrad and Catherine, they remain something of ciphers for the historical elements of the story. The payoff though is that it brings the story up to date and links the past into the culture and life of present day Poland.

The elements of the book that will remain with me the longest are Krystyna's flight from her family home. Seaward presents some moving images and the relationship between Krystyna and her horses is beautifully developed. By contrast, her time in the Home Army suffers a little in that the author clearly knows more about the detail of the action than she explains. By making it a very personal story and with the episodic nature of some of the time leaps, when some of the action develops later on, it appears a little confusing to work out the politics of what is going on.

It is though beautifully written and reveals aspects of the second world war that are less frequently covered, namely the plight of Poland.

Our thanks to the good people at John Murray for sending us this book.

For more interesting modern takes on wartime experiences Far to Go by Alison Pick is highly recommended.

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