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Friday, August 21, 2020


This is my best type of story. Truth speaking back – telling the other side of the story. And I loved it. (Review by Tina le Roux)

The Prisoner’s Wife by Maggie Brookes starts with this quote by Primo Levi: “It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”

This quote stands at the opening of a remarkable piece of writing, as an upfront reminder to all of us about the horrors of World War 2, the dehumanisation of Nazi concentration and POW camps, the rise of totalitarianism and Fascism. Importantly however, it teaches that stories of love and hope can transcend those dark times and places.

And transcend it does! This is a story of hope, love, and heroism played out in the arena of World War 2, made even more remarkable because it is inspired by a true story as related to the author by a survivor of these camps – Lance Corporal Sidney Reed.

It describes the meeting and blossoming love affair between a Czech farm girl (Isabella) and a captured British soldier (Bill). Bill is forced into the Nazi work programmes and ends up on Isabella’s family farm where they meet. An unlikely love story, given their different cultures and language barriers, but completely understandable:  it is not hard to imagine people looking for love and connection in the face of brutality, death and loss.

I loved the fact that the author wrote this story with the female protagonist’s voice. It is, after all, Isabella’s story – her illicit love affair, her secret marriage to Bill, and her daring attempt to run away dressed as a man with her husband, and an attempt to evade capture. To centre her voice against the backdrop of warfare tells a story otherwise unheard of. It is a personal story playing out in a landscape of warfare, politics and violence, that cleverly depicts the personal: how this all impacts on ordinary people.

And this is just the beginning! Isabella and Bill are soon cornered by Nazi soldiers and transported to a POW camp. This is a world which Bill has been in before, but for Isabella (now dressed as a young man) it is beyond dangerous! It is her disguise as a young man suffering from shellshock that protects her against all odds, as they face appalling living conditions and treatment at the hands of the Nazi soldiers and work placement camps. It is also a disguise right under the noses of the Nazi guards that makes this story so courageous. Sometimes hiding in plain sight works! And it is deliciously daring and inspiring, too!

However, it is the constant fear of Izzy's exposure that captures the reader’s imagination so vividly - forcing one to read on and on because the suspense at every moment is nail-biting.

Luckily for the young married couple, and in the midst of minute by minute danger and deprivation, comes hope for they are befriended by a small group of fellow prisoners willing to keep their secret. These men become their new family, prepared to jeopardise their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot. Again, what is remarkable here is the lengths to which these men are willing to go – quite literally putting their lives on the line for a woman. Chivalry? Heroism? Yes, but also so much more! That it speaks so loudly to the need for love to prevail against all odds and that these men recognise it and want to help protect it, is incredibly beautiful. Hope in a valley of desolation.

The Prisoner's Wife is an incredible story of risk, and of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times. Bill and Izzy's story is one of prevailing love and survival against the darkest odds. Maggie Brookes tells the story with the craftsmanship of a passionate historian, but with the heart of a believer, that it is possible to overcome and to give voice to those silenced by history.

Her writing is skilful, suspense driven and well researched. I found the novel to be gripping and easy to read. Her message is that for the extraordinary times we find ourselves in, we can still be strong, we can endure, we can have courage and that love and friendship will see us through.

This is a message that stands beyond the arena of World War 2!

I wish only that Brooke’s extensive research had uncovered the real names of the two lovers. There were gaps in the narrating of the story by Corporal Reed that had to be filled in by the author. I have no doubt, however, that these “embellishments” speak to historical accuracy (that the basis of the story of a woman hiding in plain sight in a POW camp did happen, and included the death march away from the advancing Russian army and the horrendous conditions in the work and POW camps). 

Somehow, however, I wanted to hear the rest of the story of Bill and Izzy – what their real names were, where did they land up at the end of the war? Did the Disney story happen? Did the princess and her prince live happily ever after? 

Maybe it’s okay that we will never know. Because, however it worked out, that their story inspired hope and love to survive in the most desolate of places and in the worst of humanity, is enough.

A candle in the wind. Against seemingly insurmountable odds.

This is my best type of story. Truth speaking back – telling the other side of the story. And I loved it.

The Prisoner's Wife is published by Penguin - ISBN: 9781787464148. - Tina le Roux

(The Prisoner’s Wife” was also reviewed for artSMart by Margaret von Klemperer – see