The Prisoner’s Wife: A Novel. Maggie Brookes. Penguin Publishing Group. May 2020. pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780593197752
A Czech farm girl, Isabel, meets a British Prisoner of War, Billy and it’s love sparked from the first look and touch. Billy is a prisoner and they have to keep their love secret or the German guards would exact a horrible retribution on both of the lovers. Isabel’s father and brother were taken away by the Germans and she is the only one to help her mother on the farm. Billy begins to help her in so many ways but they know their relationship must change and it can’t be in their present conditions. However, they eventually escape and trek their way from the countryside until they are finally caught by the Nazis. Isabel cuts her hair and dresses like a boy. She acts as a mute would and they tell the soldiers that she was suffering from the results of a horrific battle at Tobruk.
This novel is more than just a litany of horrendous prisoner of war conditions which are almost beyond belief. Starvation, sickness, lice, and cruelty by captors are more than enough to break and even destroy the prisoners. What truly stands out in this account, however, are the tremendous traits of compassion, loyalty and kindness by which men are bound and which they exert to protect Isabel’s female status. Indeed, one of the men will die to protect Isabel’s life. Billy sings and shares his musical harmonica talent to lift up the spirits of the suffering men.
As the end of the war approaches, conditions begin to change as the Nazi soldiers fear retaliation if they are exposed to the Allies. Billy and Isabel, however, are united in honoring and respecting men who treasured and shared books, meager portions of food and medical care, minimum as it was. They all dream of returning to home and a decent meal. One mourns as his fiancé married his brother but he still finds courage to go on for this loving prisoner couple.
War often shows the world the worst in human beings but in Maggie Brookes’ novel it also shows the best human and superhuman qualities operating in the worst of wartime stress and difficulties. Remarkable historical fiction that is a phenomenal read and highly recommended. You won’t forget this novel for a very long time!