Publisher: Nan A. Talese (July 7, 2009)
During the Christmas Truce of 1914, Hal Montgomery, a British soldier, is given a photo by a German soldier, Wilhelm Wetzlar, and they make a pact. Hal promises to find his enemy’s English girlfriend, Samantha, and let her know her fiancé is alive and thinking of her.
Several weeks later, Hal—now injured—is discharged from the army and goes to Stratford on Avon to fulfill his promise. But things take an unexpected turn when he meets the woman in the photo and falls in love with her himself. As their romance blossoms, Sam shares with Hal her most private confidence: Her newborn son is of German lineage, information that threatens her reputation and her job as a schoolteacher. Fearful that he will lose Sam, Hal holds tight to the secret—and the photograph—that brought them together.
The scene shifts to London, where Hal becomes involved with military intelligence and is introduced to Sam’s sisters and a different kind of secrecy. Against the broader landscape of England in wartime, Gifts of War captures the era and the fates of men and women caught in the sweep of history.
A vivid tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue, the novel is a remarkable narrative that explores what made War World I so tragic, so revolutionary, and so exciting. It also announces a gifted new novelist.
I literally stumbled on this novel in a 'all for one' (price) shoppe, the jacket instantly attracting my attention with its WW1 German 'Christmas celebration' in the trenches' photo! Stories of Allies and enemy meetings during a 1914 bleak Christmas eve throughout no man's land have always fascinated me, a haunting moment in a world gone crazy, never to be forgotten.
Mackenzie Ford (nom de plume for a well known British historian) captures his readers attention as he clearly explains his reasons for writing this bittersweet tale in an exclusive interview with Amazon (see notes and source below in 'About the Author').
Mackenzie Ford excels in this narrative with extensive historical knowledge, reflected in a myriad of details in 'Gifts of War', at its core, a multi faceted love story, or perhaps I should say stories, sure to grasp readers' romantic interest.
WW1 was a period like no other, with the beginning of new warfare, untried weapons and deadly ones, such as gas and zeppelins bombarding allied cities, following stupendous tactical errors leading to enormous casualties on both sides.
Descriptions of the British home front of 1914-1918 as few of us know of it, the losses and the hardships, the switches in gender's roles as women took on more responsibilities with men fighting in the trenches, the experiment of blood transfusions and its ultimate use on the battlefields, the new intelligence procedures, the resulting psychological aspects of warfare for those returning to civilian life afterwards and even their loved ones, all carefully explained.
Mackenzie Ford leaves no aspect of wartime unturned and as such his novel if fictional, represents for someone like me, the one single complete account of these years.
In the midst of the madness of Christmas 1914, British officer Hal Montgomery could not have foreseen the result of accepting a German officer's photograph and delivering it to Sam, his fiance, an English teacher. Wilhem hopes she will understand his sudden reason for leaving her as war erupted and will wait for him.
Grievously wounded, Hal is shipped home, the photograph in his belongings. Following his recovery, Hal's promise leads him to the Midlands and discovers the beautiful young woman has borne a child out of wedlock, her love for Wilhem stronger than ever.
Against the almost idyllic background of WW1 in the English countryside, Hal cannot help but fall in love with Sam, keeping the photograph and Wilhem's secret to himself.
When it appears Sam is soon to lose her teaching position owing to her unmarried state, Hal tells her he loves her and offers to take her and her son to London, as he has accepted a position in the intelligence department of the War Office.
Our story now moves to London, and through the author' eyes we discover a vivid home front as we find the three of them living now as a family, with Hal keeping his secret and Sam asking him to be patient with her as she cannot forget Wilhem.
As the conflicts continues in Europe, Hal's position rises up in the War department whilst Sam and her sisters who move in with them bring their shares of joy and grief in his life. His greatest happiness stems however of seeing Will, Sam and Wilhem's boy, grow and loving him as his own father.
Deftly woven through Hal and Sam's search for happiness, we meet Izzy, Hal's little sister, part of a specialized medical team experimenting with blood transfusions, a life saver on the battlefields. Her letters to Hal and her family allows us to experience from a woman's point of view the absurdity and horror of such a conflict.
In 'Gifts of War', we discover there are many sorts of love whilst we see the political and social upheavals brought on by the War which ultimately gives us a glimpse of the future for all sides. History after all has already dealt itself one more card.
Finally, there is a price to be paid for all lies yet this beautiful story offers us an unexpected twist. It all began you see with one act of faith betwixt enemy nations in the midst of a War which would end all wars or so they thought...
Obviously a keeper for me, and rating 5 stars!
Note to Readers: Mackenzie Ford has written two other novels which I ordered from the UK and will review at a later date!
As always, remember that unless stated otherwise, reviews reflect only my opinion!
About the Author:
(Source: AMAZON Exclusive)
'I am an only child, but the son of a mother who was one of four sisters, very close. And my father was a twin. I have, therefore, always been interested in how families influence behaviour, but more in how brothers and sisters impact on each other, rather than how parents influence their children. At the same time, I have observed how in the English language, so precise in many ways, we have just the one word—‘love’—to describe a wide range of feelings. We say we love the theatre, or the sun, or our laptops, but those are pale emotions compared to how we fall in love with someone else, and that can’t compare with the love of a parent for a child, or a child for a parent. Why were my mother and her sisters so close, why did they love each other so much, when other brothers and sisters are not close at all, may even be arch rivals, as say King Lear’s daughters were?
Gifts of War explores these issues against a background of the First World War, and for three reasons. The danger inherent in war heightens all emotions, and its sheer proximity forces a psychological equality on people that is absent the rest of the time; it helps the story-teller. But second, I have also noticed that, contrary to common sense, or what we take common sense to be, amid the danger—or perhaps because of it—people enjoy wartime conditions, some of them, or at least they say they did, after the event. So Gifts of War is about the good things that can come out of the unusual psychological circumstances of war.
That’s all background of course.
A final reason for choosing a wartime setting is that early on in World War One there was a very unusual development: at Christmas-time ordinary soldiers, in defiance of High Command, insisted on a truce, when they laid down their arms, climbed out of the trenches and fraternised with each other, swapping badges and photographs and cigarettes. This unusual occurrence allowed me, as a storyteller, the chance to begin a story of a kind that could occur in no other way, in no other war, in no other time. That, I like to think, is what makes Gifts of War unique.
I particularly enjoyed creating Isobel (Izzy), Hal's sister, a nurse at the Front. I spent months in the company of these characters and I hope you will savour them and their inter-relationships as much as I did. I was reluctant to let them go, but as you will see, there is an inevitability to the ending.'