Review: The Soldier's Wife

Editorial Review - - Melanie Smith

For fans of historical romance, there can be no more exciting tale than the tender love story told in THE SOLDIER'S WIFE, set on the island of Guernsey during the summer of 1940 and spanning the following five years. This place of beauty and contemplation becomes a safe haven for a while, within a continent that is already being ravaged by war. THE SOLDIER'S WIFE is a lovely, classy romance and an ... Read full review

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User Review  - Hanneri - LibraryThing

The story was beautifully written, but I felt the 'story' was lacking. Vivienne's husband is away at war and she decides to stay on the small island of Guernsey with her daughters. German soldiers ... Read full review

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I enjoyed this story very much.

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There is a strong sense of time and place in this beautifully written book. It takes place during WWII on the island of Guernsey and vividly shows the effects of German occupation on the day-to-day life of those who remained. There’s a tenseness and fear that suddenly and permanently envelopes even the most mundane activity and haunts the thoughts. With a husband off fighting, the story focuses on Vivian, left behind to care for her two daughters and mother-in-law as German soldiers take up residence in the house next to hers. Vivian is a strong woman, but also vulnerable and ends up having an affair with a German soldier. Margaret Leroy does an excellent job of humanizing the Germans while at the same time demonstrating their ability to torment and kill. The book slows in places but is still a very good literary read.
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Although I was reading several books at the time I began this one, I put them all aside to finish The Soldier’s Wife. I didn’t expect it to have so profound an effect on me. With tremendous insight into the conflicting emotions one must experience when under the heel of an invading army, a captive in one’s own homeland, not knowing exactly how to react to please the invader and yet not wanting to displease your neighbors, Leroy explored the depth of depravity and the height of nobility from the most unexpected sources. She did all this without creating maudlin, hackneyed scenes, too trite to read about. Although the subject matter is not new, the story felt as if it had never been told before, in quite this way.
The time is 1940, and on one of the Channel Islands, Guernsey, with the Germans literally at their gate, many Guernsians scramble to escape or send their children to safety. Vivienne de la Mare, after agonizing over her decision, decides it is time to leave the island with her children. This is her husband’s home, not hers and he is away fighting for Britain. She has a sister in London and they are welcome there. Her children, Blanche, who is 14, and Millie, who is 9, are meant to leave with her on a boat to England. Her husband’s mother is taken to a friend’s home, along with their beloved cat, but when they arrive at the pier, there are too many people waiting for the tiny boat at the dock, and shocked that they are expected to leave in that tiny vessel, Vivienne impulsively leaves the queue and goes back home. There she finds, although the war has yet to reach the shores of Guernsey, it has already begun because someone has ransacked the house, robbed them and destroyed her heirlooms, just for the sake of it, a random act of vandalism by some thug taking advantage of the war situation. From this point, the story grows into a tale of love and betrayal, violence and compassion, survival and death. It is at once a war story and a love story, but also a story of how ordinary people simply try to survive in the most trying of times.
It is a tender novel which touches on all human emotions; it is about despair, loneliness, courage and hope. Eugene, Vivienne’s husband, has long been absent in their marriage, not only because of the war, and Vivienne’s hunger soon causes her to begin a secret love affair with one of the occupying Germans, Gunther, a sensitive, lonely man, apart and aside from him being the enemy soldier that he is, who fills a need within her that has been unfulfilled for too long. During one of their trysts, he makes a simple but profound statement which explains the behavior of many during wartime, which may seem like cowardice, but is really simply an act of survival. It is simple statements like these, which appear throughout the book, that explore human nature more fully and make this something other than a typical love story or war story.
When Gunther describes how he felt watching his father beating his brother, knowing that instead of hiding he could interfere and help him, we learn that he knows a simple truth. While he is beating his brother, he is safe, he isn’t beating him. That statement may indeed be the reason why so many in wartime, or in peacetime, witnessing a crime, remain silent and do nothing. If the person committing evil is hurting someone else, than they are safe, and they never think of what comes next…that they may be next, when there are no other victims. We feel the simple truth of what Millie says when she replies to her mother about not being too friendly to the enemy, the Germans, that Max, is not a German, he is simply Max. In another time, after the war, he is, indeed, simply Max. When Max treats Millie when she is ill, we see the humanity that resides within him as well as the depravity that allows him to bear witness to such inhuman behavior towards other human beings without an outcry in their defense.
The story never becomes too maudlin or too unbearable to read about, for although as the novel unfolds with simple clarity, and the

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