Postcards from no man’s land is a wonderfully written novel by English author Aidan Chambers. The book is really popular amongst young-adults and has won a lot of prestigious prizes over the years.
Holland, World War 2; devastation, pain and a lot of death. Bombardments that vanished entire cities (like Rotterdam). A mass murder that’s hard to forget. Especially for those who where there and lost so much in so little time.
Taking care of people you have only met seconds before. Seeing them in pain, seeing them scared and finding yourself in a position where the little hope they have left is focused on you. The war closer than ever. Inside your home. The home that used to be a place where it was always gezellig -which means something as cozy, cheerful-. That place was gone.
Hard to imagine that this would be your life, right? Well, it was the reality for nineteen year old girl Geertrui during the second World War in Holland. Geertrui lived in Oosterbeek, a small village nearby Arnhem. She and her family nursed British wounded soldiers in their cellar in the backyard. She falls in love with one of the soldiers named Jacob Todd; a love under the strangest circumstances. A great adventure follows.
Parachutes falling like confetti from a clear blue sky. My most vivid memory of his arrival. Sunday 17 September 1944. (page 12)
Now, 50 years later, Jacob’s grandson Jacob (named after his grandfather of course) is visiting Oosterbeek. He visits the now terminally ill Geertrui, her Dutch family and he takes a trip to Amsterdam. A journey that teaches him who he really is, including a lot of twists and turns and in the end a shocking discovery.
Seriously good and compulsively readable novel that spans 50 years and two interwoven stories of love, betrayal and self-discovery. (the Guardian, 2001)
The wordplay I used in the first paragraph with the word ‘gezellig’ is used a lot of times by the author himself, when he thinks a word has a stronger meaning in Dutch than it would have in English. This is one of the many things I think is very interesting about this book. The author, Aidan Chambers, really looked into the different situations the characters were in. He knows a lot about the war, but also a lot about Amsterdam. I, living in Amsterdam, could relate to the feelings Jacob had when he stayed there. The city’s flaws, beauties and surprises were well-mapped.
Because of the atmosphere described by the author, it felt like you were there with them. Under the same circumstances with the same fears , doubts, aches and desires. The book also includes stories written by people, living in that same area as Geertrui lived in, during that same time. It made it even more real for me.
What I also very much like about this book is that it sheds a light on ‘difficult to talk about subjects’ like euthanasia, sexuality, morals, friends, life and death. It shows that everybody has a different opinion and that we have to respect those opinions and have to listen to them, without losing our own common sense. The book mostly shows you that there is a place for everyone, under whatever circumstances, to feel like you belong. A place where you are respected for who you are and what you stand for. A safe place that feels like home. Most important, you can find such a sacred place in locations you had never thought of finding it.
I think this book is most suitable for younger-adults. Mostly because I feel that it can teach you a lot about who you are and who you want to be in your future. It shows that we have to learn from the past and have to respect it, but that we, the ones of the younger generation, have to find our own way in life. We have to write our own stories in the best way we can and hope it includes an amazing love story, like the one of Geertrui and Jacob.
Here is memory. For me now there is only memory. Memory and pain. All life is memory. Pain is of now, forgotten as soon as gone. But memory lives. And grows, and changes too. Like the clouds I can see through my window. Bright and billowy sometimes. Blanketing the sky sometimes. Storm-tossed sometimes. Thin and long and high sometimes. Low and grey and brooding sometimes. And sometimes not there at all, only the cloudless blue, so peaceful, so endless. (page 113)