Book Review: Tamar by Mal Peet
My wife recommended I read Tamar by Mal Peet earlier this year, and it was the first book I tried to read on my Kindle after I became ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome and lost most of my vision. I was only able to read a page or two at a time back then, and I just couldn’t keep my head in the story. Few books are good enough to keep anyone’s head in them when it takes months to read.
But this one was good enough that when I did get my eyesight back, I cracked it back open (as much as you can crack open a book you read on a Kindle), and finished the story. And I’m glad I did.
Tamar is a YA novel, but it actually jumps between a war story set in Holland during the winter of 1944-45 and the YA portion set in the summer of 1995. Holland during the winter of ‘44 was occupied territory, run by the Nazi regime and a brutal cadre of SS officers who were determined to starve the countryside clean of both Jews and the Dutch Resistance. Into this devastated landscape, two British agents are dropped to organize and communicate with the Dutch Resistance. In 1995, a young girl, Tamar, tries to cope with the suicide of her grandfather, and in doing so, finds a trail of deception that leads back fifty years.
A little back story from me: my father grew up in Holland during World War II; in the winter of 1944 he would have been 12 years old. My mother was born in Belgium, and that year, she would have been 6 years old. My parents rarely talked about the war while I was growing up, except to say that “it was a bad, bad time.” So to read a story that is set in the same region as my father grew up was quite fascinating. What I don’t know, is how accurately the events are portrayed. From the author’s note in the back of the book, I know Peet did quite a bit of research, but there is a difference between researching something and living through it. I would love for my folks to read this book and then to let me know how well Peet did in recreating life in the occupied territories. But I also wouldn’t want them to read it and be somehow sent back to an era they probably would prefer to forget.
I had a little difficulty getting into the 1995 storyline of this book, but I think it was because a) so much time elapsed between the time I read the beginning of the book and the end, that I may have forgotten some critical pieces; b) because of the personal connection to Holland in 1945, those parts grabbed me just a little more; c) part of the storyline for 1995 made me really uncomfortable, so I might have rushed through it, too. Still, the main character was engaging and the story unique.
Overall, Tamar, is a decent book. If you have a connection to the ‘old country’ like I do, you may want to read this and then talk to those who lived through it to see how their experiences compared to the book. At the very least, you might understand those people a little better. Perhaps, however, it might open the door for some further discussions of family history. That doesn’t happen a lot because of a book (at least not for me).
Tamar tells a good story and is helping me learn more about history. I can tell the characters feel very scared when they are in Holland.