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 elegant historical novel filled to the brim with antiquated details and thoughtful themes.
At the time the Germans set foot on Guernsey Isle, it has been less than a year since war was declared. At this point, the natives feel abandoned by Allied Forces, and Guernsey's fighting men are stationed on other fronts with strategies directed elsewhere. The people of the island can sense no help coming for them but count themselves lucky to be alive and in possession of their homes. They have not (yet) been specifically targeted by the Nazis. But as the occupation continues, they start hearing whispers of starvation and threats of deportation into German concentration camps. They are beginning to wish they had left while they could, with the many thousands who escaped to London in time.
Guernsey's citizens quickly discover that there's no escape from war and realize they've been left completely at the mercy of the German army. These soldiers have claimed abandoned homes all over the island and surrounded those who live there. Weapons have been confiscated, new laws set in place, and curfews enforced. But for the most part, soldiers are leaving civilians like Vivienne de la Mare to freely enjoy a vaguely normal existence. By the end of the War, Guernsey will carry the unfortunate distinction of housing the only concentration camp to ever mar the soil of the United Kingdom. The real saving grace for islanders (at least in Vivienne's eyes) becomes the reassurance that there are still at least some Germans who vaguely resemble decent human beings.
THE SOLDIER'S WIFE is a unique historical novel that presents a very special scenario of forbidden love, with a powerful relationship developing between two people who stand on opposite sides of the war. An unlikely connection forms between a German soldier and a Guernsey woman who lives next door, and this becomes a sweetly potent and surprisingly pure love story as they feel a powerful and irresistible pull toward one another.
Vivienne follows her heart even while recognizing that her actions might very well be construed as treasonous by her friends and neighbors, some of whom are planning covert actions against the Germans. Her reasons for sneaking around and taking these risks are simple: She has found herself in love for the very first time in her life and doesn't feel able to walk away. Complicating her situation is the fact that both she and Gunther are married; but at least they know they married for the wrong reasons and (certainly) the wrong people. They've been in unhappy relationships for years.
Love becomes the lifeline for lovers in Guernsey for a blissful, long stretch as the war rages on. This happiness lasts until the day Vivienne is forced to reconsider her involvement and take a personal stance on the War. Like many islanders, Vivienne is a kind person but really does want to close her eyes to the things happening around her. It takes her a long time to realize this, but just like her neighbors, she would like to think these things only happen elsewhere. Sometimes real horrors are too difficult for people to process, but the truth remains even if they don't want to be made aware of it. The Guernsey islanders have simply become too frightened by now to stand up and choose, even when there might be safety in numbers and secrecy.
Living in continual fear and realizing now that a concentration camp has been built nearby --- even after watching Nazis march prisoners right past her own doorstep --- isn't enough at first to force Vivienne's hand. Her stance only changes with the discovery of her four-year-old daughter's bravery, and Vivienne reconsiders her choice to be a simple bystander --- not just in the war, but in her personal life as well, with her decisions about her marriage and her ongoing choice to continue seeing a German in secret.
THE SOLDIER'S WIFE is a lovely, classy romance and an elegant historical novel filled to the brim with antiquated details and thoughtful themes. This is a realistic look at war, and the many events that unfold are perfectly believable and completely engaging. The love story is powerful and will make readers consider exactly what loyalty means and what love can do. Era details are spot-on, and the romantic scenes are handled tactfully but with indulgence. This is at least as good a book as THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY; personally, I thought it was better and enjoyed it more.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on July 4, 2011