THE GIRL FROM THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
Author: Jenny Lecoat
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House Books
An extraordinary story of human triumph against impossible odds
The year is 1940, and the world is torn apart by war. In June of that year, Hitler’s army captures the Channel Islands—the only part of Great Britain occupied by German forces. Abandoned by Mr. Churchill, forgotten by the Allies and cut off from all help, the Islands’ situation is increasingly desperate.
Hedy Bercu is a young Jewish girl who fled Vienna for the island of Jersey two years earlier during the Anschluss, only to find herself trapped by the Nazis once more—this time with no escape. Her only hope is to make herself invaluable to the Germans by working as a translator, hiding in plain sight with the help of her friends and community—and a sympathetic German officer. But as the war intensifies, rations dwindle and neighbors are increasingly suspicious of one another. Hedy’s life is in greater danger every day. It will take a definitive, daring act to save her from certain deportation to the concentration camps.
A sweeping tale of bravery and love under impossible circumstances, Hedy’s remarkable story reminds us that it’s often up to ordinary people to be quiet heroes in the face of injustice.
It took me a bit to warm up to this book. Initially, I didn’t realize it was based on a true story. But once I picked up on that tidbit and did a little research into what happened, the story became much more engaging to me.
At the heart of the story is the unlikely friendship that develops between Hedwig Bercu (Hedy), an Austrian Jew who was working as a nanny on the island before the Germans invaded, and Dorothea Le Brocq Weber (Dory), a resident of the island who married an Austrian conscripted into the German army.
At the time of the German invasion of the Channel Islands, there were very few Jewish people remaining there. Most had already fled. But Hedy remained, and even though she was identified as a Jew, she was able to get a job as a translator, working for the Germans. Still, being a Jew during World War II was a precarious situation. Hedy’s ethnic identity becomes widely known when she is found to have been stealing fuel coupons, and the Germans are on the hunt for her. It is only through the valiant efforts of Dory and of Hedy’s German lover, Kurt, that she is able to survive.
I thought Hedy was needlessly callous toward Dory when they first met. Hedy and Anton were friends before Dory came into the picture, and Hedy appeared to make no bones about her dislike of Dory. Her attitude seemed a bit harsh, but I guess it’s not unexpected from someone who struggled to trust anyone. Still, it made Hedy something of an unlikeable character at first.
Ms. Lecoat has clearly done her research, and one thing that really drew me in about the book was the description of the absolute privation that comes in wartime. A fair bit of historical fiction touches on that topic, but doesn’t really go into detail. I could almost feel Hedy and Dory’s hunger pangs and exhaustion as they tried to find something, anything to eat.
Overall, I found this to be a story worth the read. It gets four stars from me.
Thanks to NetGalley and Graydon House Books for an advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.
About the author:
Jenny Lecoat was born in Jersey, Channel Islands, where her parents were raised under German Occupation and were involved in resistance activity. Lecoat moved to England at 18, where, after earning a drama degree, she spent a decade on the alternative comedy circuit as a feminist stand-up. She also wrote for newspapers and women’s magazines (Cosmopolitan, Observer), worked as a TV and radio presenter, before focusing on screenwriting from sitcom to sketch shows. A love of history and factual stories and a return to her island roots brought about her feature film Another Mother’s Son (2017). She is married to television writer Gary Lawson and now lives in East Sussex. The Girl from the Channel Islands is her first novel.