Waiting for the Violins by Justine Saracen is a story based on the lives of two women in the Second World War. This is an important era because many of the people that took part in these events are now dead, and memories fade. Apart from one or two famous examples, many of the women that took part in the war have been written out of history and thus anything written with a ‘herstory’ perspective becomes very important. We need to give younger women details of heroic actions done by women. For example, there have been many films in the last decade about Dunkirk and the soldiers that lost their lives. But, most people are not aware that there were women there, not many, but they were fulfilling a role and many lost their lives.
Antonia Forrester is a British nurse who is badly injured at Dunkirk. Whilst recovering in hospital, she is approached by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to work in occupied France and Belgium as a spy. She spent some of her childhood in Belgium and studied in Paris, and thus can speak good French. Two years later, once she has recovered, she begins her training. Six months later, she is parachuted into Belgium where she works with different groups of partisans resisting the German occupation.
She eventually meets Sandrine Toussaint and helps her with the Comet Line, an escape route for downed allied pilots through German-occupied France and over the mountains to Spain. This allows the pilots to be re-patriated to the UK and thus continue the war. The rest of the story is about the women’s exploits until the end of the war.
Antonia Forrester is an interesting woman. Saracen goes to great effort to show she is an ordinary person that finds herself in an extraordinary position. This is so true of many people in Europe in WWII. Antonia is at times resourceful and clever, and at other times just struggles to cope with the situation. She has loneliness, lack of food, and fear as the permanent backdrop to her life. Her character develops to show that despite this background, she is stronger than she realises and that it is possible to find love.
Sandrine Toussaint provides an interesting contrast to Antonia. She is Belgian aristocracy from a wealthy family with a large property. Much to her embarrassment, her father and husband, who are both dead, sided with the Rexists, who had similar ideals to the Nazis about anti-Semitism. She is an idealist and wishes to protect her country, her house and her friends and is thus both resourceful and a very good actress. She has to deal with senior German officials to ensure that everything she is fighting for happens, despite the cost to her personally and emotionally.
The Writing Style
Saracen has a very light and easy style. This gives us a very well researched history of a number of events that took place in WWII that serve as the backdrop to the life journeys of Antonia and Sandrine. She demonstrates clearly the enormous consequences of war and the effects on different groups of people. However, it is not a learned tome about the history of the period, but an emotional, at times violent or sad, narrative. For example, she shows through her story, and not in long descriptions, how the Jewish people were being removed, and the fact that many people did not know where to or why.
Women are often written out of history, particularly in the Second World War, where modern perception is that they stayed at home and looked after the family in difficult circumstances. The history is also that women that liked women did not exist, and it is so good to read a story that proves otherwise. I have read maybe a hundred war stories based on this era, this is the first one with a F/F perspective.
The story is very readable and thus the history filters through to you almost unseen and it is so well done!
This is a beautifully written ‘herstory’ book and I loved it! Saracen’s research included personal recollections from people that lived through the period both Jewish and Belgian. It is a must-read for anyone that does not know some of the personal stories of women in war-torn Europe.
Excerpt from Waiting for the Violins by Justine Saracen
“Tell me about the money.”
Antonia also relaxed. “We have to set it up. Now that I have radio contact, I’ll tell my people I’ve connected with you and ask them to make a drop at a time and location you designate. I need money too. I couldn’t even pay for my soup today.”
“We’ll put it on your bill.” For the first time Sandrine’s expression hinted at a smile. “You said your name is Sophie. Is that your real name?”
“That’s what’s on my identification papers.”
“Sophie it is, then. What have you been doing all this time since you arrived?”
“Since you brushed me off, you mean? I’ve been working with Jewish partisans. Not part of my orders, but we share a common enemy.”
“I see. Well, if all it takes is a message to London…” She opened a drawer on the side of the desk and drew out a pad of paper. “Let’s compose one.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781626399092
- Publisher: Bold Stroke Books