Skip to main content

Tamar by Mal Peet

This one's been sitting on my TBR shelf for awhile now, waiting for me to work my way around to the right mood. When I finally did, I was sucked in by the first line.
In the end, it was her grandfather, William Hyde, who gave the unborn child her name. He was serious about names; he'd had several himself.
One day, out of the blue, William Hyde asks his son to name his daughter Tamar. He explains that when he was a Dutch resistance fighter working for the British during WWII, their code names were taken from rivers in England. His son assumes it was his father's code name and agrees to name her Tamar.

After this brief introduction, the story jumps back in time to follow two young Dutch secret agents, code names Dart and Tamar. The two friends parachute into the occupied Netherlands in the dead of night. Tamar is charged with organizing the fragmented resistance efforts. Dart is his wireless operator. When they arrive, Tamar finds he is based out of the farm where a young woman named Marijke lives. It turns out the two met and fell in love a year ago but never thought they'd see each other again after Tamar was sent back to England. As they rekindle their romance amid the terror and starvation gripping the country, Dart is not so lucky. Based out of an insane asylum, he poses as a doctor, making trip after treacherous trip into town to relay encrypted messages and receive directions from headquarters in England. The events that overtake these two friends combine to create a web of deception and anger that reaches out to cover three generations.

This story is bleak. The focus is on the horrors of war and what they do to the men and women involved, the indelible mark left on their lives long after the guns are silenced and the violence is over. In the WWII chapters, the writing is coolly objective. It is impossible not to sympathize with Dart and Tamar and Marijke, though it is difficult to really feel like you know them. The war obscures everything. However, their story is broken up periodically by excerpts from the future. A future in which William Hyde dies suddenly, leaving a box of strange items to his granddaughter Tamar. Tamar's father disappeared years ago, her grandmother is in a home for the elderly, and her mother knows next to nothing about the family history. With the help of her quirky "cousin" (but not really) Yoyo, Tamar sets out on a journey to the river that shares her name to discover why and what her grandfather left her. These chapters are told in first person and come across a bit warmer than the rest of the tale. They show up more frequently as the novel comes closer to its conclusion and, I admit, I would have liked a few more of these present-day chapters throughout the book. Nevertheless, it is a harrowing and fascinating read. I wanted to understand the characters and their motives. I wanted Tamar to understand. In the end, Mal Peet leaves it up to the reader to determine which of them deserves forgiveness and which of them achieve peace.

Links
Bookgoddess Review
The Guardian Review
New York Times Review

Comments

You Might Also Like

Review | The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

All it took was hearing the basic bones of the premise of Beth O'Leary's debut novel The Flatsharefor me to determine I would absolutely be reading it as soon as I possibly could. I was so delighted to be granted access to an advanced reading copy by Flatiron Books. Even better, it became apparent from the moment I read the first few lines that this reading experience would take place in one headlong rush. No significant breaks allowed, let alone required. The Flatshare was published first in the UK and then slightly later here in the U.S. I dithered over which cover to buy as both have much to recommend them, but I finally decided on the U.S. cover (pictured here). I just love the two of them standing on either side of the same door, the tiny heart between the title and author name.

Tiffy is in a massive, massive bind. Out on her ear after breaking up with her exceptionally controlling boyfriend, she needs an inexpensive place to live and she needs it yesterday. Despite her …

In the Beginning, or the First Ten Books I Reviewed on the Blog

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish feature hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl
It's been awhile, but this topic was too good to pass up. When I thought about it, I genuinely could not recall which were the first ten books I actually reviewed here on the blog. So then, of course, I had to know. The thing is, I originally started the whole thing simply posting a once a month list of my favorite reads and rereads of the month. That went on for some time until lo and behold I went ahead and wrote and posted my first review on November 9, 2007. In hindsight, I probably should have known exactly which book pushed me over the edge into full fledged reviews. So this was a rather delightful journey back in time. Do you remember the first book you ever reviewed (in any forum) or what made you take the plunge? Here are my first ten (and I have to say, looking at this snapshot from the past, these remain some of my absolute favorite authors and a pretty spot-on array of the genres I read and love tod…

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend me Your Recs

Guys. We are going on a trip―a trip we have been planning for years. And it is finally happening next week! We're going to visit my parents in France, and we are taking the whole gang. Or rather, all three kids but not the dog. Who I am desperately sad about leaving and really hope he doesn't think we've up and given him to another family and proceed to forget all about us. It's just two weeks. But we've never left him that long before, and I am obviously emotional about it. Have I posted pics of Sodapop here before? I'm not sure that I ever have. Here he is on the day we got him: And here he is now in his natural habitat, which is to say in my library on laundry day: Ahem. 
The actual point of this post is to get your reading recs for the trip! I'm completely torn over which physical books to take with me. Yes, I realize most of my reading will be done on my Kindle by necessity, but I always have to have some physical copies with me. For both safety and I…