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Great premise, failed execution
on April 12, 2012
This novel sounded so intriguing in the blurb, but it was such a disappointment to read. There are two story lines. First there are Georg and Edith, Austrian refugees living in London and expecting their first child. The other story line doesn't focus on one person, but several Jewish operatives in Palestine trying to harass the British into allowing more Jews into the territory while also taking revenge for comrades lost to the cause. These two story lines don't come together until the last quarter of the story.
This story had a lot of potential, but Martin Fletcher, an award-winning news correspondent, did not successfully make the transition from journalist to writer. Far too often in both story lines Fletcher awkwardly inserts history lessons and news reports into dialogue, letters, and the narrative itself. While the information is interesting, it feels contrived when a character describes a concentration camp in a page-long flashback or when Jewish operatives read British military reports to each other and discuss the political context of them.
Especially in Georg and Edith's story, these information dumps badly mask the fact that most of the action is taking place 'off stage.' Other than the scenes in which Londoners campaign to have the Jews sent back to their country of origin, Georg and Edith spend much of their time sitting around wondering what happened to their family members and worrying about the baby.
I wish Fletcher had focused only on Georg and Edith's story. All the rest could have been cut out, perhaps for another novel, and what would be left would have been a poignant story about young refugee couple trying to cope in a city that doesn't want them.