Friday, February 1, 2008

Tamar by Mal Peet

I've just finished Mal Peet's phenomenal novel Tamar which deservedly won the Carnegie Medal. It's one of those difficult to read but hard to put down World War II stories in which the writing is superb. The characters are complex and fully drawn, meaning that they are both heroic and fraught with human frailties. The story's twists, turns, intrigues, and deceptions will keep you reading late into the night. In fact, Peet's characters were so real that it was at time, difficult to believe I was reading fiction.

At first I thought the 400 plus page novel was totally about the Nazi occupation of Holland and the courageous resistance fighters who risked their lives to thwart them. It is such a compelling story that if that was all there were to this book, I would have felt satisfied. However, Peet sets his sights much higher, He doesn't just explore the tragedy of wars, but also of their after-math. Well into the novel, 15-year old Tamar, the granddaughter of one of the two surviving resistance fighters, drags readers out of the past and into modern-day England. I found myself resenting her intrusion into that other story. After all, I was totally caught up with Tamar (the resistance fighter), Dart, and Marijke and their struggle to survive, to resist, and to stand up to the Nazi's despite insurmountable odds. However, Peet so deftly intertwines the past and present that you are as compelled to follow the younger Tamar as she tries to make sense of her grandfather's suicide and her puzzling inheritance as you are compelled to follow the World War II story. What Tamar finds at the end of her journey is as much a surprise to her as it is to the reader.

Tamar is an intense and riveting tale of passion about the resistance fighters of World War II which truly demonstrates that war has far reaching heroic and tragic consequences. While it is beautifully written and rich in detail, it's length and it's subject matter might make it a difficult read for some. Still, if you can handle the scenes of stark brutality that Peet does not shrink from, Tamar is brilliant and well worth your time.

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