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Postcards from No Man’s Land, Aiden Chambers

2010/04/11

“Nothing in Amsterdam is what it appears to be.” This is a note that seventeen year old Jacob receives from a boy that he thought was a girl, after they finish having a beer together, and just before his coat and money are stolen. All this happens within the first ten pages of this novel, which follows both Jacob in modern Amsterdam and a teenage girl named Geertrui, living in Holland during World War II.

Geertrui narrates her story in alternating chapters, while Jacob’s is presented in third person. Both begin as somewhat naïve characters, but quickly find themselves in situations where they are forced into situations which require mature thinking. Geertrui is a sheltered nineteen year old girl living with her parents in a small village in Holland when the Germans invade. She finds herself nursing British soldiers, including one named Jacob. Along with her brother, his best friend, and Jacob, she escapes to a farm outside the village, where they attempt to stay concealed for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the modern Jacob finds himself at the mercy of a kindly woman who helps him contact the people he is supposed to be meeting up with, a young man named Daan, and his mother, Tessel. Tessel remains offstage for sometime, with her mother, who is terminally ill, so Daan is the one who shows Jacob around. He also happens to be friends with the young man who Jacob encountered earlier, which makes for a delightfully awkward and confusing conversation over coffee.

The reader will understand the connection between the two stories long before the narrative brings them together. Both Geertrui and Jacob have sexual experiences and encounters which require them to rethink their previous ideas and assumptions. Geertrui is a thoughtful and eloquent writer, and quotes from poems and English proverbs litter her story. Jacob has long been drawn to the writings of Anne Frank, and in a few chapters, expounds on how important reading her diary has been to him. After having visited her house, it causes him to reflect on how personal he has made her writing.

This is a well-written historical novel, with strong male and female characters. Because of the issues discussed by and encountered by different characters, I would recommend it to older or mature teens only.

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