Three Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

For me, the month of February can be summed up in three words. Best laid plans.

What actually happened

I thought I’d get a lot of reading done in February while being confined to my home with a fractured leg. I discovered it was hard to concentrate. I only completed three books in February. When given the opportunity to read 24/7, it loses its appeal – or at least it did for me. Added to my concentration problems was a hospitalization due to a pulmonary embolism. It was quite a month!

Since I didn’t get anything posted on my blog last Monday, I’ll try to get back on my weekly posting track now. I’ll try to finish writing “FixYourNovel #4 – Characterization, Part 2” for next Monday.


Moving on to today’s topic

Some readers look for a blog post the first Monday of the month about the books I read the previous month, so that’s what I’m doing today. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might like one or more of these three books.


The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

As usual, I can’t remember how I heard about this historical novel. I’m glad I did, though.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton did extensive research and wrote this book over a 12-year period. She takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, she weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England.

The references to closed borders and Hitler’s accusations about “the lying press” sent chills up and down my spine as an American. The parallels with the policies of the current United States president are striking and frightening to those of us who value our democracy.

There are gut-wrenching scenes of parents putting their children on trains with admonitions to make the most out of the museums and educational opportunities they’ll have in England. The children are entrusted to strangers with promises from their parents to somehow get to England and reunite with them.

No child under four or older than 17 years old was allowed to go. Each child was assigned a number. When they arrived in England, they were reviewed by prospective adoptive parents on Sundays.

As is stated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, “Although fiction, this novel is based on the read Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus.”

I regret to quote the following from near the end of the book:

“Efforts to effect similar transports to the United States, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill introduced into Congress in February of 1939, met anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic opposition. A June 2, 1939, memo seeking President Roosevelt’s support for the effort is marked in his handwriting ‘File no action. FDR.’”

I hope you get a chance to read this excellent historical novel.


The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The ophthalmologist who treated me for shingles in my right eye several years ago was an avid reader. During my frequent appointments, we often discussed our favorite novels and authors. He introduced me to the novels of Stuart Nevillle and Adrian McKinty. I finally got around to reading my first novel by Mr. McKinty last month.

Police suspense novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland
The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The Cold, Cold Ground was Mr. McKinty’s twelfth novel, but it introduced a new character, Sean Duffy, a Roman Catholic police officer in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. At least one of my immigrant ancestors came to America from Carrickfergus, so I was immediately drawn into the story. My ancestor was a Presbyterian, though, which has always intrigued me in light of “The Troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. I just don’t understand Christians hating other Christians, but that a topic for another day.

Back to the novel… Duffy is often put in awkward situations since he is one of only a few Roman Catholic police officers in Carrickfergus.

In The Cold, Cold Ground, a serial killer is making a statement, and Duffy is determined to solve the case and see the murderer brought to justice. There have been two murders. No one else suspects a connection except for Duffy.

I look forward to reading other Adrian McKinty novels.


A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

I was really on a roll last month with good historical novels! I wish I had remembered more details from the Latin American history courses I took in college. Some of that information would have been a helpful backdrop while reading this novel about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You may wonder what Latin America had to do with a late-1930s civil war in Spain. I wondered the same thing, so I was in for an education.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens fled across the mountainous French border when General Franco and his Fascist followers overthrew the Spanish government.

In A Long Petal of the Sea, you follow a pregnant young widow, Roser, and her army doctor brother-in-law, Victor Dalmau, as they join 2,000 other refugees on the SS Winnipeg, a chartered ship to Chile. The voyage is chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. He described Chile as “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” Hence, the name of the novel.

The day they arrive in Chile just happens to be the day World War II erupts in Europe – September 2, 1939. The novel spans decades and four generations as these refugees make the most of their new lives in Chile while always yearning to return to their beloved Spain.

Isabel Allende, the author, was born in Peru and grew up in Chile. Since she was the first author to donate an autographed book for the autographed books auction held by the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library some years ago, Ms. Allende holds a special place in my heart.

The novel was beautifully-translated into English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a memoir, Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro and listening to Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. Please visit it every week to see what I’m up to.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any good books lately? Share your thoughts with us.

Janet

24 thoughts on “Three Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

  1. Beverley, I’m glad you enjoyed reading my comments about these books. I especially appreciate your prayers as I’m treated for the blood clot for the next three months.

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  2. Wonderful reviews Janet. The book Last Train to London must be very interesting. There have been several of these operations where minors are taken to freedom in other lands. I lived in Miami for a long time and met many Cubans who had escaped the wrath of the communists in their country and learned that they too had a similar operation that lasted approximately 15 months from 1960/61, wherein over 14.000 children were sent to Miami, greeted and taken in by the Archdiocese and then placed in foster care in 36 states. Many never saw their parents again…I researched it thoroughly in 1992 and in 1993 I produced a musical theatre version of the event in the city of Miami. It is a sad statement for humanity that things like these should take place. I thoroughly enjoyed your post as always Janet and thank you for such good information.

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  3. Thank you so much, Francisco. Yes, it’s tragic that so many innocent people — especially children are the real victims as emotionally-removed politicians make decisions and wage war. I wish I could have seen your musical theatre production about the Cuban refugees. Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog post.

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  4. I hope at this time you are doing well! I will keep you in prayer!
    These reviews are just lovely and each book, especially the first, are now on my TBR list. FDR’s response really hit me in the gut. I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

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  5. Thank you so much for your kind words, Stella! I’m so pleased you enjoyed my blog post and found a book or two you want to read. That’s the best compliment I can receive. I’m not a professional book reviewer. I just fell into the habit/routine of writing about the books I read during a month in my first blog of the following month.

    I’m doing much better now than when I wrote that post on March 2, although physical therapy progress seems to get slower by the week. I’m doing well according to the physical therapist and the orthopedic doctor. I guess it just takes time to heal a fractured leg and blood clot in the lung. I’m walking with a cane outside and without the cane inside, so I shouldn’t complain!

    Thank you for finding my blog and following it. I hope you’ll enjoy other posts I make. Please tell your friends about my blog.

    All the best,
    Janet

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