North & South - - Review -

This World War II yarn for boys has ban­dits at three o’clock (and nine o’clock and other points) and Lan­cast­ers and Messer­schmitts and Fritz and Jer­ries. There’s even a what-ho chap with a mous­tache who turns out to be a de­cent sort af­ter all. Alas, no Englisch schwein­hunds, but you can’t have ev­ery­thing.

Our 18-year-old hero bears the good solid every­man name of Jack. In fact, he is so hon­ourable he could have been called Gala­had, af­ter the Knight of the Round Table whose traits he shares – right down to vir­gin­ity. For many of the young read­ers at whom this book is aimed, an in­tro­duc­tion to the con­cept of Gala­hads would be no bad thing.

Hill evokes a cold, grey world of cold, grey food and pop­u­lates it with a United Na­tions’ worth of dif­fer­ent peo­ples joined in one great strug­gle. The book also drama­tises var­i­ous at­ti­tudes to war, such as those of Jack’s par­ents, who think this is not New Zealand’s war to fight; his col­league in arms, Ste­fan, the ob­sessed Pole, whose fam­ily was bru­tally killed by the Nazis; and English farm­ers who com­plain that all this mar­tial ac­tiv­ity is both­er­ing their an­i­mals.

Jack has joined up against his par­ents’ wishes. In Eng­land, as a mem­ber of a fighter crew that un­der­takes var­i­ous mis­sions of in­creas­ing de­grees of dan­ger over oc­cu­pied Europe, he is con­fronted with the re­al­i­ties of death in the sky and on the ground. He, too, ques­tions what he is do­ing. The con­clu­sion is an un­ex­pected one, de-em­pha­sis­ing hero­ics to fo­cus in­stead on how unity and com­mon feel­ing are strong enough to over­ride and to arise from the most ex­treme of con­flicts.

One of the few dis­ap­point­ments in this oth­er­wise clev­erly crafted book is that, in 2017, the only fe­male char­ac­ters, in this story for young males, are ei­ther madon­nas or black­mar­ket rack­e­teer­ing whores.

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