A small wooden doll links tales of wartime tragedy and tenderness across the 20th century and into the 21st.
As told in flashbacks within a present-tense frame story, the doll is first given as a keepsake to a British Tommy by his sweetheart, Meg, in 1918. When he is killed at Ypres, a Jewish German soldier finds it, passing it decades later to a child in Terezín. Years after, the American son of a Prague war orphan carries it to Vietnam. He gives it to a village child, and she, to her Canadian son—who marches off to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, leaving it behind to be found in a Toronto yard sale in 2007 by Elizabeth, teenage daughter of an engineer about to depart for Afghanistan. In each era, the figurine’s owners, family, friends and adversaries come across as distinct characters, with well-defined lives and motives. Along with penetrating insights into the feelings of those who went to fight, stayed behind or just became victims of circumstance, Gold supplies enough historical background to give readers an understanding of the complex events and rationales that drove each war. Some of the violence is joltingly explicit, and ultimately, Elizabeth has a devastating loss of her own to suffer, but her involvement with the doll leads to a final scene of both resolution and comfort.
A memorable debut, both timely and universal in its themes. (Fiction. 11-14)