11 June 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Jan by Peter Haden

AMAZON UK £3.99 £4.51
AMAZON US $5.62 $13.87

Biographical fiction
1940s / World War II
Germany. Poland and England

Jan Janicki, a young Polish lad and son of a farmer, is sent to a near neighbour, Gunther Raschdorf, a German, as an apprentice to be an engineer. They become friends and watch in horror as war becomes inevitable. Gunther reveals that his wife is half Jewish and that their daughter, Renate, is classed as Mischling. Gunther entreaties Jan to escort Renate far away to a place of safety. Jan then continues into Belgium with the intention of making his way to England to join the armed forces. But the authorities see something else in Jan and he is offered the chance to return to Poland as an undercover liaison between England and the Polish resistance. Once his cover is blown, Jan has to escape with his brother and his girlfriend.

This is a good read, based on the true story of the author's uncle, and has lots of action, but I have a few, I hope constructive, criticisms. Vital as he is to the story, I felt Gunther's life in the German army during the first world was overlong and a bit intrusive as it takes up the first few chapters, leaving me wondering just who I was reading about. Much of this backstory, I felt, could have been introduced bit by bit during conversations or reflections. I noticed, too, that the author used the services of a translator – which is laudable. It may be a personal thing, but I prefer to be gently reminded every so often that the characters are not speaking in English, but here I found the instances of both Polish and German just a few too many for my taste as it interrupted the flow of the narrative. There were also some phrases used which I don't feel would have been appropriate for that period and place; “Three days, max ...” is an example. Two other small points: Jan's escape by boat was harrowing and for more than just this, I would have liked to have seen a map of this part of Europe in the front of the book to pinpoint some of the places mentioned in the text – my knowledge of Eastern Europe being rather limited. Finally, the cover. Absolutely nothing wrong with design at all, but it is rather dark in colour and although the title in white stands out, the author's name does not.

I bring these points up not because I think it is a poor book, but rather the opposite. It is a good book and I enjoyed it very much as, I believe, will those who have an interest in this little documented aspect of World War II.

© Richard Tearle



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