A Place in the Country by Sarah Gainham
Book two of Sarah Gainham’s trilogy begins in 1946 and continues the story of many of the characters from Night Falls on the City… those that did manage to survive the war. Julie Homburg a famous Austrian Actress who hid her Jewish husband in their home throughout the war, Georg Kerenyi – a war correspondent and the Homburg’s best friend, and Lali von Kasda – a 20 year old waif stuck in the Russian Zone of Austria with her year old child.
A Place in the Country is narrated by Robert Inglis, a British officer who spent most of the war in Alexandria, Egypt in the non-combat position of interpreter/interrogator, and is now stationed in the British Zone of Austria assigned to work with displaced refugees and returning prisoners of war. As the plot unfolds he befriends Georg and gains entrance into the exclusive social life of Julie.
A Place in the Country is a combination of love story, political intrigue, and historical drama. Amidst war torn cities, food shortages, and the newly established borders which divvied up the land between Great Britain, the Untied States, France, and the Soviet Union – the Austrian citizens are left starving and demoralized – without a country to call their own. As they try to resume some semblance of a normal life, they are forced to deal with issues of personal responsibility and guilt. There was no clear answer however, as to whether they were merely victims or willing participants in the Holocaust simply because they didn’t take a stand against the Third Reich dictatorship. In general, they view the occupying allies as presumptuous, judgmental, self-righteous, and naive. No human knows the limit of their courage until it is tested… and the Austrian’s certainly had the ultimate test.
A side plot involves Robert’s professional life; the military protocol of day-to-day dealing with prisoners of war, traitors, and his realization that highly classified information is being leaked to the new merging enemy – communist Russia.
The disappointing thing about A Place in the Country is the extremely narrow focus of the descriptions. The Holocaust is only mentioned in reference to the characters personal loss – the grief as their own grief. And like a raw open wound, even their own grief was too painful to put into words – buried deep within them. Maybe in the immediate after-effects of the war the Austrians were not mentally prepared to openly acknowledge the atrocities to the Jewish people. They were too busy trying to find jobs, food, lost relatives, and reclaim their war ravaged property. They were alive and free. They just wanted the nightmare to be over. I suppose this story is realistic – the graphic Holocaust survivor stories would come later. Perhaps that is the subject of the third book of the trilogy, Private Worlds.
As mentioned in my review of Night Falls on the City Sarah Gainham’s writing skills seem mediocre. It may be because the book was written in German and the translation is not the best. At the time of the original publication, almost 50 years ago, it may have warranted a higher rating as readers were thirsty for knowledge about every aspect of the war and the people it affected. But today so many valuable educational heart-felt memoirs are available it renders this novel weak and unimpressive.
Rated 2.5 Stars, April 2013
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