The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes #BookReview #BlogTour

1944, Czechoslovakia. In the dead of night a farm girl and a British soldier creep through abandoned villages.

They were never meant to meet, let alone fall in love. But when Prisoner of War Bill is brought to work on Izabela’s family farm, their chemistry is inescapable. Before they can be torn apart forever, they marry in secret and go on the run. Their only hope for safety is to reach Izabela’s father and brother who are fighting deep in the countryside as partisans. But when their luck runs out, they are delivered straight into the hands of the enemy: the Nazis.

Still refusing to separate, they have prepared for this moment. Izabela’s hair has been shorn and she wears men’s clothing, posing as an escaped and mute British soldier.

The secret lovers are transported to a Nazi POW camp deep in German territory, and if Izabela is discovered, a fate far worse than death awaits both her and Bill. It will require the help of their fellow POWs to maintain their deception, and all their love, devotion and strength to withstand the trials to come. Because should they fail, Izabella and Bill will have put far more than just themselves in danger…

Based on a true story, and researched extensively by the author on location in Eastern Europe, this is a story that takes the reader deep into a rarely-explored side of the Second World War.

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for The Prisoner's Wife today. Many thanks to Maggie Brookes and Rachel Kennedy from Penguin for inviting me and for sending me a copy of the novel.

The description for The Prisoner's Wife almost sounds too incredible but as author, Maggie Brookes explains in her notes, it is based on a remarkable true story. The characters, including Izabela and Bill are invented but the exemplary historical details and the excellent sense of place ensures the novel feels utterly authentic throughout.
Izabela is Czechoslovakian and lives with mother, and younger brother, Marek. Her father and older brother left to join the Partisans, leaving them to run the family farm. When a German officer suggests he can supply a group of POWs to work on the farm, they know it's an offer they cannot afford to refuse and not just because they desperately need the extra hands to help cut the hay. Bill has been a prisoner since being captured in Tobruk in 1941 and it's humbling to read the brief description of his wartime experiences - like so many young men he joined up on a whim, with little idea of the horrors he would face. Having spent time in camps in North Africa and Italy, he is eventually sent to Lamsdorf in Poland where he and his mate, Harry become part of the huge forced labour workforce of Allied prisoners-of-war sent out to  work in factories, mines, quarries and forests for the Third Reich. When he and Izabela first set eyes on one another, it's almost love at first sight  - much to the concern of her watchful, perceptive mother.
The speed at which their relationship develops may seem excessive these days but at a time when people didn't know when or for how long they would be separated, or even whether the day might be their last, it wasn't so unusual or surprising for couples to fall in love quickly. In 1944, the Nazis are being pushed back in Eastern Europe but the Russians are coming and throughout the book, the very real fear of what they are capable of, and what atrocities they might commit - particularly towards women - is almost palpable. As the passion grows between the pair, their plan might seem foolhardy or dangerous but Maggie Brookes' powerful depiction of their blossoming love means it's easy to understand why they decide they need to risk such a drastic course of action.
The narrative switches throughout the book between Izzy's first-person perspective giving readers a close, intensely personal sense of what she went through, and the third-person chapters which provide a wider view of both her and Bill's experiences. There are necessarily a number of tense and distressing scenes here; the ever-present danger of their extraordinary circumstances and the dreadful treatment of prisoners isn't something which should be glossed over but there are several deeply touching moments too. The small group of prisoners whom Bill and Izzy take into their confidence and rely on to keep their secret safe - particularly Ralph, Max and Scotty are so vividly brought to life and their immense courage ensured I grew to care about them all. The small but important acts of generosity and kindness described throughout the novel serve as vital reminders that hope can still be found even when it all seems almost impossible.
The Prisoner's Wife is a harrowing read at times but although it is a frank exploration of the worst of humanity, it also reveals the best of people too, and is ultimately a reminder that love - both romantic and that between friends can survive and flourish in even the darkest of times. Without giving anything away, I would love a sequel to discover what happened to some of these characters whose lives I became so invested in. Maggie Brookes has written a well-researched, compelling and emotive story; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Prisoner's Wife is published in the UK by Century, purchasing links can be found here but please try to order from one of our wonderful independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Maggie Brookes is a former journalist and BBC TV historical documentary producer, turned poet and novelist. She’s also an associate professor at Middlesex University, and an advisory fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.

Maggie has written several poetry collections in the past, but has pursued her dream of being a published novelist since the age of eighteen. Almost forty years later, her dream became a reality when she discovered the story of the real life Bill and Izabella. Maggie lives in Southgate, North London, only a few miles from the family home her father bought after surviving the war and returning to England.
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