Die Schweiz sprach

Im Rahmen des von verschiedenen Schweizer Medien organisierten Projekt “Die Schweiz spricht”, das Begegnungen mit politisch Andersdenkenden fördern wollte, habe ich mich heute mit JP zum Austausch getroffen.

JP und ich haben uns 2,5 Stunden lang bei einer schönen Reusswanderung unterhalten. Die Begegnung war sehr offen und gegenseitig respektvoll. Hier einige unserer Gesprächsthemen:

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Deep convictions under fire. Flame in the Night by Heather Munn

Flame in the Night by Heather Munn is a captivating drama about the resistance movement in occupied France during WWII. Teenage scouts conceal Jewish children from the Gestapo in remote farms, attics, treetops and caves. Meanwhile, all around them everyday life continues as usual: cultivating vegetables, going to school, shovelling snow, attending church.

Plot

An informer, working for the compromising Vichy government, takes up residence in the village. Injured German soldiers from the Eastern front arrive to recuperate. The pastor and his assistant encourage the faithful to practise nonviolent resistance. Together they establish a network of helpers, which enables many Jewish children from Poland or Germany, whose parents have been deported to concentration camps, to go into hiding or to take on new identities and mingle with the locals. However, some of the village lads join the underground armed Maquis. And so the agonising questions of conscience keep surfacing.

The prime player in this story are Julien Losier, the eighteen-year-old son of an earnest French Protestant family. His counterpart is Elisa Schulmann (renamed Elise Fournier), the sixteen-year-old daughter of strict German Jewish parents. You guessed: they fall for each other. But this is no traditional romance. It’s all about the heart-searching questions of faithfulness to one’s upbringing, responsibilities and convictions, of ethical dilemmas, and the tormenting yearning for God to reveal Himself amid all this suffering.

Various subplots spice up the narrative. Benjamin fails in his attempt to sneak across the border into Switzerland. Pastor Alexandre and Julien’s father are incarcerated, which provokes the nervous breakdown of his mother. How can two teenagers be expected to cope in such a situation?

Appraisal

This book is superbly written throughout. Munn captures not only the sinister events and accompanying inner struggles, but also vividly describes the harsh scenery and dramatic changes of season, as well as the practicalities of life in a siege situation. One particularly strong feature is the masterly and very realistic use of cropped remarks in tense dialogue exchanges, to hint at things the speaker doesn’t dare to express in words.

Although laced with suspense, this book is not for those seeking an action-packed, racy war thriller. Rather, it will appeal to serious readers, who are willing to come to grips with difficult moral issues and emotional qualms. Some readers might be put off by the repeated reflections on risking one’s life for others, and the legitimacy or otherwise of deceit and violence in a brutal war situation. I found the many characters with unfamiliar-sounding names a bit difficult at first, but the matter largely resolved itself as the book progressed.

This is a magnificent book with a challenging theme. You can buy the paperback here or the e-book here, or at Amazon or elsewhere. Heather Munn has written two earlier books together with her mother, Lydia Munn: How Huge the Night and Defy the Night. They set the scene for Flame in the Night and introduce some of the characters. However, it is not necessary to read them first, as each book is complete in itself.

The Girl on the Mountain by Carol Ervin

Scandalous rumours and immoral men do their best to ruin May Rose Long’s life. But she strives to remain honest and chaste. With neither home nor money, she even adopts the forlorn wild teenager, Wanda, before realising she is her fugitive husband’s daughter.

The book is well written and paints a realistic picture of the social relationships and harsh living conditions of a logging town in West Virginia’s virgin forest in 1899. It builds an appetite for the other books in the Mountain Women Series.

Rosenduft, Murmelspiele, Bombengedonner

“Mama sagt, dass selbst die Vögel nicht mehr singen” von Myriam Rawick

Für den Leser sind es eher Kleinigkeiten, die der sechsjährigen Myriam aus Aleppo wichtig sind: schöne Kleider, Düfte aus der Bäckerei, Spiele mit ihren Schulkameraden. Ob sie wie sie Christen sind oder Muslime ist ihr egal. Und die Begriffe der Erwachsenen – Demonstration, Revolution, Blockade usw. – versteht sie sowieso nicht. Read more

Still Waters by Viveca Sten

I usually look for historical fiction when I visit a new place. But during a recent sailing trip among the spectacular Swedish skerries, the only novel I found with a local setting in the bookshop of the picturesque island of Sandhamn was a contemporary murder mystery. It took me only a few days to devour it.

Detective Inspector Thomas Andreasson has become a bit of a workaholic with not much of a social life Read more

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

A frolicking and rather preposterous classic tale of romance, gallantry, bravery and vengeance set in 17th century France (and England). D’Artagnan and his three friends Aramis, Athos and Porthos are never shy of a duel or some undercover mission and, although their own morals are questionable, they always fight for justice and always emerge (almost) unscathed from whatever scrape they fall into.

This book contains vivid descriptions, clever character studies and rich prose. It is extremely well Read more