First novel from a popular English TV personality: a tale committed to uncovering an overlooked corner of WWII history: the treatment of Jewish refugees by the British.
Concerned to pay tribute to the experience of those who survived, as well as expose the dominant U.K. attitude to the suffering of the Jews, Baddiel (Time for Bed, 1996, etc.) does his best work in re-creating the atmosphere of the early war years in England. Isaac Fabian, his wife Lulu and daughter Rebekka find themselves in Cambridge in 1940, having managed to escape Hitler’s Germany. Isaac, the son of a rabbi, is an avowed communist who broke away from his family to marry an Aryan. That marriage is now tested by the privations of life as enemy aliens, forbidden to own maps or radios or to travel, and offered only menial work. As Britain’s war effort falters, the decision is made to remove the majority of German refugees to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Isaac is sent, but not Lulu. Baddiel provides perspective on the establishment attitude—its innate anti-Semitism and belief that the Jews “brought a certain amount of their woe upon themselves”—via the character of June Murray, a translator working for Special Operations, who suspects the atrocities in Germany are far worse than commonly understood. June decides to visit the camp and interview its inmates, including Isaac, with whom she has a brief affair. Isaac’s guilt, after sleeping with June and involving himself in a failed attempt by a group of Jews to murder a Nazi in their midst, leads him to volunteer to be shipped to the colonies. The ship is sunk by a U-boat, but we learn, in an awkward final section at Auschwitz in 2000, that Isaac survived and returned, altered, to Lulu. His testimony to June, giving her exactly the details of imminent genocide she sought, was a lie, woven from other people’s experiences—but proved to be horribly prescient.
An intelligent homage short on effective narrative impetus.