This book was provided to me courtesy of Random House India for review purposes.
John Boyne is the author of the much acclaimed ‘The boy in the Striped Pajamas’, which was made into a movie a few years ago. I haven’t read that book, but I saw the movie and cried buckets over the story of a young, lonely boy and the cards that fate deals him. However, reading this book reminded me of ‘The curious case of the dog in the night time’, with the same simplicity of writing and the feeling of floating around great and momentous happenings of adult life. I felt as if I were a child myself, shadowing Alfie as he moves around in an adult world that is no longer as safe and secure as it once was.
I loved this beautiful cover, but sadly the proof copy I received carried a simple, plainer one. The first page also listed an illustrator’s name, but contained only one illustration on the page introducing the author and so I suppose the proper book will contain more illustrations, which would definitely add a lovely cherry to the cake for readers.
‘Stay where you are and then leave’ was a phrase that I didn’t understand at first and I completely agreed with the oft-repeated question of Alfie’s father, which was, ‘What does it mean?’. It was used by Alfie’s father’s commanding officer as he sent the soldiers over the trenches, and which I supposed literally meant to hold their positions while those in front of them fell and then move out of the trenches to take their place.
Alfie Summerfield’s father left for fighting in the first world war and they haven’t received any letters from him in over a year. Alfie believes that his mother is lying to him and his father is actually dead. And yet, he refrains from questioning her or throwing tantrums. He comes across as a solemn, grownup little guy. It breaks your heart to see him struggle to understand the secrets that the adults are keeping from him and manfully refuse to give in. He is stolid and with a keen sense of duty that seems to be both utterly sweet and in a way sad. His Czech friend is a sweet and intelligent girl and when she and her father are carted off to an internment camp for the duration of the war, Alfie is provided with an opportunity that is another in a long series of butterfly effects that lead Alfie to his father. ( As an aside, it seems heartless and cruel to cart-off people this way, but I do admire the ability of the Americans to be completely unapologetic when it comes to matters of national security since the very beginning; case in point – the number of times the famous Shahrukh Khan has been detained at American airports despite protests about him being an Indian celebrity, with no results.)
It is a touching story. And full of hope. I read the whole book in one sitting and afterwards could not shake off the feeling of being a little kid running around with friends in the summer. It was wonderfully written and I recommend reading it no matter what age you are.