Dec 19, 2010

Review: Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers

Title: Postcards from No Man's Land
Author: Aidan Chambers
Publication Year: 1999
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction

Jacon's plan is to go to Amsterdam to honor his grandfather who died during WW2. He expects to go, set flowers on his grandfather's tombstone, and explore the city. But nothing goes as planned. Jacob is not prepared for love - or to face question about his sexuality. Most of all, he is not prepared to hear what Geertrui, the woman who nursed his grandfather during the war, has to say about their relationship. Geertrui had always been known as Jacob's grandfather's kind and generous nurse. But it seems that in the midst of terrible danger, Geertrui and Jacob's grandfather's time together blossomed into something more than a girl caring for a wounded soldier.

My two cents: This novel is about two stories, one is that of the young Jacob in the present day Amsterdam (well, in 1995) and another of Geertrui in the war-stricken Oostorbeek in 1944. These two stories, separated by 50 years in time, are told interchangeably between chapters.

I'll be honest. For the first few chapters, it wasn't an easy read. It was rather confusing, all over the place and left me trying to figure out the connection between one sentence to another. But it was purposely written in that way...and as the book progressed, I found it became easier and easier to relate each character to the main stories. Life in time of war is told from Geertrui's perspective and it wasn't easy reading all she had to go through during the war. Somehow, it makes me realise how lucky I am to live somewhere where war is just a history. As for the modern day Amsterdam, it is told from the perspective of a visiting English teenager who is yet to discover himself. It shows us the cultures and customs of Dutch as well as an English boy's perspective on the city and its people.

Originally, I picked up this book because I wanted to read something about love during WW2. And, was I disappointed? I'd have to say, not at all. There is love, self-discovery and sacrifice all in one both stories of young Jacob and of young Geetrui. Though, if I had to choose between the two, I loved Geertrui's story a bit more. Her story was truly tragic yet beautiful. Her love for soldier Jacob and how she dealt with losing the people she loved to war are the aspects that touched me the most.

And I have to say, there's a lot of history in this book, from WW2 and its famous Anne Frank to Rembrandt to the history of the two families featured. Also, the book is full of philosophical quotes about life and memories. All in all, the author managed to intertwine the lives of two main characters, Jacob Todd and Geertrui in a very beautiful, clever and awesome sort of way.

At the back cover of the book, it is written "...teens may remember not only that they read it, but also where and when they read it." This is particularly true in my case. I still remember that I read most of this book while I was sitting in the food court of Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre waiting for WCOA session for that particular day to end.

My words would never be enough to describe this book. Just go and pick it up whenever you have time. I believe it won't be a disappointment.

A few of my favourite quotes:

"You have to know your own truth and stick to it. And never despair. Never give up. There's always hope."

"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."

"Events separate people quite as much as time and distance. What has happened to one in the absence of the other makes foreigners of them."

There are more but I can't seem to locate them now. Don't blame me for being too lazy to go through each chapter, it is 3.30 in the morning.

Note: According to the author, this book is a part of 'The Dance Sequence' which consisted of 6 books. But, it can be read as standalone.

My verdict: 5/5

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