From the back cover:
"During the Christmas truce of 1914, a German gives a British soldier a photo, and they make a pact. Hal, the British soldier, promises to find his enemy's English girlfriend, Sam, and let her know her fiance is alive and thinking of her. Several weeks later, Hal- now injured- is discharged from the army and goes to Stratford-upon-Avon to fulfill his promise. But things take an unexpected turn when he meets the woman in the photo and falls in love with her himself. As their romance blossoms, Sam shares with Hal her most private confidence. Her newborn son is of German lineage, information that threatens her reputation and her job as schoolteacher. Fearful that he will lose Sam, Hals holds tight to the secret-and the photograph - that brought them together.
Mackenzie Ford sets the story of Hal and Sam's love affair against the broader landscape of England at war and brilliantly captures the era and the fates of men and women caught in the sweep of history. A vivid tale of romance, adventure and intrigue."
My thoughts,: The first two sentences in this book evoked such an image for me.
"It is 2: a.m., raining hard, and the cobblestones on the Boulevard Raspail are glittering like a thousand silver spoons. Vast puddles are forming in the gutters, black as ink."
I love the contrast. A promising beginning to an interesting story. This was a good book and I did enjoy it, BUT, there are things about the whole premise that I found disturbing.Hal and the German soldier, Wilhelm, made an honor bound pact. Once Hal saw Sam and before he even got to know her, he threw honor out the window and decided he wanted her for himself. Would this really happen in 1914? Would a British soldier or anyone for that matter, in that day and age give their word so lightly and dishonor their solemn agreement for the sake of love or lust at first sight? Somehow, I think not.
So basically we have a budding relationship built on deceit. Not the most auspicious beginning for any future together. Sam made no bones about her love for Wilhelm at the same time as she realized how difficult it would be to have a German fiance. Understandably, anti-German sentiment was high at the time. I found it hard to like Hal as he never gave Sam the opportunity to get to really know him and make her own decision. The reader is privy to his private thoughts with some semblance of a guilty conscience but he does not act on it. Hal just hoped that it will all work out in the end. At several points in the story, he even hoped that Wilhelm would not survive the war.
Once Hal had been released from active duty, he pursued a career in Intelligence at the War Office. Here his talents shone as he quickly made his way up the ladder. I did find this part of the book interesting; a look behind the scenes in the war rooms with the ferreting out of traitors. Hal's commitment to his Intelligence work did endear him to me a little but decisions he made in his personal life still annoyed me.
There were several other concurrent plotlines that I found intriguing. Hal's sister Izzy was a fun character who really came to life on the pages. She was a nurse at the front just when the medical world was learning more about blood types and transfusions. Izzy kept a journal about her war experiences. Supposedly, this was not condoned by the military but Izzy was a woman who knew her own mind and was very outspoken. She was one of the highlights of the story for me. There are some very realistic war tidbits in the story, serving to reinforce the challenges of the time frame.
The back cover touts this as a love story but to me it was very one-sided between Hal and Sam anyway. A lot of it just made me sad to think that the lives of so many people were turned upside down by the futility of war. Overall, I did like the book but the ending was a little bit of a disappointment. Would I still recommend The Gifts of War? Yes, definitely. 3.5 ***
Mackenzie Ford is the nom de plume of a well known and respected historian who lives in London.
A big thank you to Doubleday and Shelf Awareness for an advance copy of this book.