“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Posts tagged ‘libby fischer hellmann’

Book Review: Wars, Spies, and Bobby Sox by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Bobbysox-cover-368As usual, despite having received a copy of this collection for advance review, life interfered so I’m late doing said review.

The first novella in this triad of tales—two novellas and a short story—set in the World War II era is “The Incidental Spy,” which is reviewed elsewhere. It sets the tone for the rest of the book, which is about how war affects even those living far from combat and danger. It’s also about women who, in an era when independence wasn’t encouraged, are forced to become so when they are often unprepared to make the choices independence requires.

“The Incidental Spy” features a single mother forced to commit treason against the country she thought would protect her from the dangers of her homeland. “P.O.W” could have been yet another syrupy tale of love between those supposed to be enemies. It isn’t, and while I could probably say more without spoilers, I’m not going to because it needs to be read with no expectations.

The final offering, “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared,” is yet another take on the underlying theme of the collection, this time from the viewpoint of a young man from a privileged background who too early must confront the realization that what might seem like adventure has consequences beyond his experience.

The stories all contain an element of the kind of excellent thriller for which Ms. Hellmann is known, but it’s a component, not the purpose. These are stories of people whose common, everyday lives are disrupted by war in places they consider safe. They remind us that innocence, for all we like to admire it, can be hazardous when it allows us to convince ourselves everything is or will be just fine if we ignore the moments that make us uncomfortable and dismiss them as our imagination running wild.

If you haven’t read Ms. Hellmann’s work before, this book is an excellent introduction. She is an expert at working what is clearly detailed research into the narrative, something many writers never manage to perfect. Most important, as with her two series, the characters are alive and breathing people the reader immediately feels as if they know intimately; and despite their bad choices and foolishness—or perhaps because of them—we can’t help but recognize something or ourselves in them.

Review: The Incidental Spy by Libby Fischer Hellmann

First, I must apologize to Ms. Hellmann for the lateness of this review. I can only plead work and conventions. And laundry.

When it comes to the plight of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, the focus tends to be on their escape or attempts to do so. In Ms. Hellmann’s new novella from The Red Herring Press, Lena Bentheim has reached safety in Chicago, but at the cost of the rest of her family and her beloved Josef. Through a combination of luck and determination, she lands a job as a secretary in the U. of Chicago physics department, falls in love and has a son.

The department has taken on a new top-secret project, and Lena’s husband is in the front row of scientists working on it. Then, Karl dies in a traffic accident, and Lena must return to work. The department welcomes her back. Life is a struggle, but she’ll do what she must for her son, Max.

Until the night Max goes missing. Suddenly, Lena is forced to spy on her coworkers, supplying the Nazi regime with information on the experiments in atomic fission that will become known as the Manhattan Project.

It’s impossible not to want to jump in and help Lena. A stranger in a country where her religion and her country of origin are suspect, where she has no one she can trust or turn to, and where the life of her child hangs on choices she must make against her will and her conscience, she is a character one can embrace without a qualm. Ms. Hellmann places her in a seemingly impossible situation where she must either find the courage to battle her blackmailers or accept the treason they demand she perform for them. The suspense in this superb novella is more truly in that internal struggle than in the outer one of spies and traitors.

The Incidental Spy is available in print and, shortly, in ebook on Amazon. I received an advance review copy from Ms. Hellmann for review purposes. I’m delighted I did.