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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

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