An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater
When Sara and her parents arrive in a beautiful village as refugees in France 1943, they cannot believe their good fortune after their exile from Poland as Jews. A beautiful if deserted house, a community which seems to welcome them, a place of safety after their trials. Sara is sixteen, shy and wary in some respects, but desperate for friends, for normality. The discovery of what is really going on in the village, and the choices that she must make, gives real impetus to a book that is at times lyrical, at times honest, about Sara’s life and times.
This book is a subtle look at the realities of life in France during the second World War, both for refugees and those with deep links to the community and land. Drinkwater obviously knows and loves the area in which it is set, such are the descriptions of the flowers, plants and landscape which run throughout this novel. It is also excellent in regards to character, especially that of Sara, who is at first hesitant about a whole new way of life, then becomes committed to those around her and the dangers they run. Not that the author only describes the main protagonists; even the minor characters destined to only appear briefly in the narrative have telling details. The creation of a girl who is at first nervous of those around her but actually has great discernment about people and what motivates them is the great achievement of this novel, especially as it turns out that she must quickly find out who to trust. Her relationship with her parents is touching and truthful, as her beloved father counsels giving her freedom “as we don’t know how many summers she will have”. A book set in these circumstances could be depressing or worse, this book is neither. It breathes hope and love, subtle in many ways, unexpected and well paced. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this beautifully written book.
Sara is possibly best summed up in her own words “I had a million questions”, as she tells the story of the people of the village with the keen eye of a new observer. She notices the details, such as the friendly shopkeeper, the laundry woman in her several guises, the duplicity of a young woman who will always want more excitement rather than safety. Her increasing attraction to certain people, especially Alain, will have life changing results, while her concern for the children she is asked to care for while their mother is unwell will have long lasting implications. She discovers a mysterious house, and it is in the solitude of a secret place that she discovers a lot about the mysterious owners as well as herself.
This book has a pattern of the unexpected, and the plot is so well worked out, as the shadows of huge forces threaten, while the people, the flowers, the setting continue on, working out their patterns. Sara has a wonderful summer in many ways, but danger is ever present, even when she manages to forget for a few blissful hours. I really enjoyed this book for its honesty, its willingness to tackle difficult subjects, and yet also the evident impetus of Sara’s intelligent spirit. I really recommend this as a novel which is set in a time and circumstances much written of, but is so well written with the small details that make it seem new and spontaneous with this experienced writer.