THE PRISONER’S WIFE
By: Maggie Brookes
Published: May 26, 2020
Taking pieces from a true story and adding in her own fictional details, Maggie Brookes has written a memorable novel set during WWII beginning on a Czech farm and ending up in a POW camp in Germany. This story of a young couple who were determined to stay together and sacrifice anything to not be separated during some of the harshest conditions of the war will stay with you long after you read it.
Izzy, her mom, and younger brother were left behind to manage their Czech farm after her father and older brother left to fight in the war. A POW camp sent prisoners to help with the harvest on the farm and Izzy takes an immediate liking to one of the British POWs, Bill. Eventually, as Russian soldiers begin to close in and fearing the worst, Bill and Izzy marry and escape, running from the guards and leaving a note behind for her mother. Unfortunately, their escape doesn’t last for long and they are captured by Nazi soldiers and Izzy must begin the most horrifying time of her life, living in a POW camp as a young man.
Bill and Izzy find a group of men in the camp that they can trust and the group risk everything to keep their secret. Izzy hopes the guards won’t notice that she doesn’t need to shave, stating she is younger than most and also has to hide her monthly visitor, which is beyond embarrassing to her. But, that is the least of their worries as they come across mean and dangerous guards that want to take aim at Izzy in her weak state. When they eventually have to join a quarry to work and then are forced to leave again to avoid the Russians, Bill and Izzy become even more afraid for their lives. They must join the Long March across Europe in a brutal winter to their final camp. After all these sacrifices, will they survive until they are saved by the American soldiers?
The men that Bill and Izzy are close to in the camps become like family to them. Izzy had to leave her family behind, never knowing if she would see them again. Bill and then fellow prisoners that risk their lives to save hers become her family. The relationships and characterizations of these men were some of my favorite parts of this story.
The amount of grit, instinct, and pure desire to survive amazed me. I’ve read numerous novels of WWII and the perseverance of the characters to survive in the harshest of elements always amazes me. The author interviewed a man who was in a camp with a woman and it still hard to believe that even parts of this story are true and that this could have happened. Just the logistics of being a woman in a male-only camp for months and months reminds me of the fortitude she must have had and the deep love for her husband to endure it.
Fans of historical fiction will find this to be a page-turner even though it is a bit long on details. Nearly every WWII novel is heart-breaking and this one definitely brought me to tears many times. The ending felt a bit abrupt. With so many details given throughout the story and then leaving the ending with so many unknowns, it was a bit frustrating, and the only reason why I didn’t give it a full five stars. However, it is a powerful story and one that will stay with you long after you read it.
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Maggie Brookes is a British ex-journalist and BBC television producer turned poet and novelist. She is an advisory fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and also an Associate Professor at Middlesex University, London, England, where she has taught creative writing since 1990. She lives in London and Whitstable, Kent and is married, with two grown-up daughters. Brookes has published five poetry collections in the UK under her married name of Maggie Butt.