by Mal Peet
Interests: war, WWII, violence, Holland, spies, occupation, romance, grandparents, family history, mystery
Walker Books: 2005
Other books by Mal Peet: Keeper, The Penalty, Life: An Exploded Diagram
Tamar tells two stories concurrently, one set in 1945 and the other in 1995 as a young girl learns about her grandfather’s war history. In 1945 World War II is drawing to its end, and the Dutch resistance struggles on. Trained in Britain, two spies with the code names Tamar and Dart are sent to coordinate the fractured Dutch resistance. During a long winter of stress and privation, both men fall in love with the same woman. And when one Resistance group accidentally shoots the most powerful and ruthless Nazi officer in Holland, it starts a chain of events which spells disaster for the spies. In the present-day story the young girl named Tamar seeks to know the truth about her grandfather, who has recently committed suicide. The two stories unfold side by side and show how events long ago can maintain a deadly grip on a family through the generations.
This is a fascinating portrayal of the daily life of spies operating under the German occupation in Holland. The author interviewed actual radio operators from the time and the depth and detail of this research makes the story incredibly real. The strain, fear, and boredom takes its toll on Dart especially, and his growing hatred of Tamar is a case study in irrational jealousy and paranoia. The attack on the SS General Rauter, and the mass executions which followed are based on true events, though the story of the Dutch spies is fictional.
This is a gripping, suspenseful read, a long book at the end of which you will actually feel like you’ve been through World War II yourself. Events are predictably violent and dark, but the violence is not glamourized in any way. The modern voice of granddaughter Tamar breathes a little fresh air into a very tense story. A good pick for readers ready and eager for a ‘grownup read’.