Another novel I much admire, and also set in the Netherlands, is ‘Tamar’ by Mal Peet.  Like ‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ by Aidan Chambers, this novel is set in two time frames.  In 1995, a girl finds a box with her name. ‘Tamar’ on it.  Following the clues along with her Dutch cousin, she discovers a story of secrets and espionage along with the reason she has such an unusual name.


In the 1945 time frame, we follow two Dutch spies, code named Tamar and Dart, are sent back into the Nazi occupied Netherlands to try to bring order to chaotic resistance groups.  A young Dutch woman Marijke reunites with Tamar; they met on a previous mission and fell in love.  Dart, too, finds himself falling in love with her and this complicated triangle threatens their mission.

In 1995, the modern ‘Tamar’ tracks back through this history to see where it fits with her life and her current situation: her father, Jan has left home, her grandmother Marijke is slipping away mentally and speaking more Dutch than English and her grandfather finds it hard to accept that his wife is rejecting him.

Everything becomes clear to Tamar, and so to the reader, and the two time frames make sense as the book nears its end.  This is not a book that is triumphant in its depiction of spying or Allied victory.  Instead, you are left with a feeling of waste and pointlessness as well as feeling that Mal Peet has written a book that captures the best and lowest behaviour of humans in war time.

‘Tamar’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


The Arnhem Report

I enjoyed this book by Iain Johnstone when I read it in the 70s.  Although, on reading it again many years later, it is a bit like an extended advertisement for the film, it does highlight interesting aspects of film making, especially when on an epic scale.


The film is significant because it was one of the first to portray the allies as prone to mistakes.  The Battle for Arnhem had not been a success so was an odd subject for a film about the Second World War; most war films covered great victories and stories of Allied daring-do.

I bought my copy in the 70s when the film was released but gave it away some years later.  After my visit to Arnhem, I watched the film again and wanted to re-read this book.  I found a second hand copy on line.  It would have been amazing if it had been my old copy with my name inside coming back to me.  It wasn’t!

A Bridge Too Far

The novel ‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ inspired me to visit Arnhem, and more specifically the village of Oosterbeek, to see the location of the events of Operation Market Garden.  There is a very good museum about the battle for Arnhem in the village in what was once the Hartenstein Hotel, used by the allies after their landings.

The Museum

The Museum

This visit then sent me off in the direction of the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ and, after that, to the book by Cornelius Ryan.  The film was directed by Richard Attenborough with a screenplay by William Goldman.  It can safely be categorised as an epic with a line up of film stars from the time that is truly amazing.  Among the actors involved were Ryan O’Neal, Dirk Bogarde, Hardy Kruger, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, and Liv Ullmann.  The stand out performances were from a younger Anthony Hopkins and Laurence Olivier.  Anthony Hopkins was a formidable actor before knighthood and hammery took over and Olivier stole the film with such a small but powerful performance.

The Film

The Film

The name for the film comes from a comment, supposedly spoken by the British General ‘Boy’ Browning that “I think we may be going a bridge too far.”

The book, with over 600 pages, is a detailed history of Operation Market Garden that puts the Battle of Arnhem in the context of the wider strategy to move through Netherlands and cross the Rhine and on into Germany.  Allied commanders believed that success in this mission could end the war by December 1944.  The failure of the campaign was set out by Ryan along with stories of how useful intelligence was ignored because the higher ranks wanted a success.  The Germans had more tanks in the are than at first presumed but this information was shelved so that the campaign could proceed.

The Book

The Book

The film is an exciting recreation of the battle and the book is highly readable but, perhaps, the most important part of this story is found in the war cemetery in the village of Oosterbeek where, every year, Dutch school children lay flowers on the graves on the anniversary of the battle as a mark of respect.

This post ends where it began: in ‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ Jacob lays flowers on the grave of his grandfather alongside the Dutch school children.

Oosterbeek Cemetery

Oosterbeek Cemetery

Postcards from No Man’s Land

‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ by Aidan Chambers is one of the books that made me want to go there!  I visited Arnhem just to retrace the journey of this book.  The novel has two time frames: 1999 and 1949.  In the later period, young Jacob Todd, 17 years old, travels to Amsterdam and then on to Arnhem to take part in the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, or Operation Market Garden as it was known.  Jacob intends to place flowers on the grave of his grandfather, also Jacob, a fallen soldier.


In the second strand, Geertrui is a 19 year old girl living in Arnhem under German occupation.  When British soldiers fall out of the sky on parachutes, she is called upon to help nurse the casualties.  She nurses a soldier called Jacob and a love blossoms between them.

Fifty years later, the grandson meets the woman who nursed his dying grandfather.  The modern Jacob finds himself disoriented by his trip.  He mistakes a boy for a girl, meets peers who seems more worldly wise than he is, and finds himself confronting the same issues of life and death faced fifty years earlier.  Above all, Chambers shows us that we understand ourselves by knowing the past and what formed us.

‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


Max Riemelt: NaPolA

I first became aware of  German actor Max Riemelt in the film ‘NaPolA’ from 2004.  While I had seen his co- star was Tom Schilling in several other films, Max Riemelt  was new to me.   In this film he played Friedrich, a working class Berliner who is taken under the wing of the Nazi party because of his skill as a boxer.  He is sent to an elite Nazi boarding school, an opportunity he would never otherwise have had, where the elite are trained.  He grabs his chance to get on in life even though his left wing father is horrified about the company he keeps.  Friedrich forges his father’s signature on the entry form and leaves home during the night.


Friedrich befriends Albrecht, the son of a high ranking Nazi official.  He is a pupil by virtue of his father’s position rather than his physical prowess.  He finds it hard to compete with the other students and struggles in a harsh regime.  His efforts to please his father fail.  Matters are made worse when Albrecht’s father takes a shine to Friedrich seeing in him the attributes and virtues that he would like to see in his own son. He criticises his son’s desire to write and insists they stage a boxing match for his entertainment.

The harsh conditions continue and Friedrich goes from admiring the code of honour to seeing it as a bullying regime where pupils, like another boy called Siegfried, are humiliated to the point of wetting the bed.

As the film progresses, we see Friedrich, Albrecht and Siegfried all make stands in different ways; their decisions setting them apart from the crowd of young men who will go on to serve the Nazi regime without question.

Director Dennis Gansel’s film shows the regime in miniature.  The totalitarian approach in the school is a reflection of what happened to a whole country.  The fates of the students who refused to participate act as an unfortunate reminder of what happened to thousands of others in real life.


‘NaPolA’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Brian Patten: You asked, Who will look after the garden while I’m gone?

For me this poem by Brian Patten makes the phrase ‘speaks volumes’ make sense.

You asked, Who will look after the garden while I’m gone?

‘I will,’ said January.
‘I will anchor it to the earth with snowdrops.
I will give it my stone, the garnet.’

‘It is mine,’ said February.
‘I will feed it the memory of all that grows.
I will welcome it with my stone the amethyst and with primrose.’

‘I will coax it with bloodstone and daffodil,’ said March,
Like a boxer battered by winter
I will lift myself from the frosty canvas of the earth to welcome it.’BlogPattenBrian

‘With diamond and daisy I will seduce it.
I will soak it in shower after shower,’ said April.
‘In the yawny earth its seeds will riot.’

‘I will make it dizzy with emeralds
And the fumes of the hawthorn,’ said May.
‘It will know of nothing but play.’

‘And I will adorn it with necklaces of honeysuckle and ruby,’ said June.
‘Their clasps will be made out of the honeybees wings.’
It will dance to my languid tune.’

‘I will contain it,’ said July.
‘I will handcuff it with briar and chrysolite,
Drug it with the scent of roses.’

August spoke from the garden’s still centre.
‘I will weep layer upon layer of sardonyx.
I will teach it the brevity of poppies.’

‘When its bones begin to creak
I will cure it with aster and opal,’
Promised September

I will guide it towards sleep with the cold light of sapphires.
For its lullaby I will provide the swan-song of dahilias,’
Said October.

‘Under the dead weight of chrysanthemums I will bury it,’
Said November.
‘I will give it a headstone of topaz, a rosary of berries.’

‘And I will guard its sleep,’ said December.
‘On a pillow of moonstone
It will dream of holly and the coming snowdrop.’

Brian Patten

The poems of Brian Patten are in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Free Fall

This German film from 20130 stars the excellent Max Riemelt as Kai, a police officer who is gay and confident in his sexuality.  He meets Marc, a married man whose partner is expecting a baby.  Marc is intrigued by Kai, feels an attraction to him but is scared by the feelings this man is awakening in him.  When the two find themselves serving on the same team, the scene is set for a growing relationship.


Hanno Koffler plays Marc, the young police officer whose life is turned upside down when he acts on his feelings for Kai.  Although, at first, the two carry on an affair in private, leading a double life proves harder for Marc, especially when the rest of the police team discover that Kai is gay.  The title becomes obvious as the film continues and the life Marc had created for himself starts to unravel.  For Kai, being confident in his sexuality does not help when he is not prepared to be a hidden lover.

We see the fear of a small community to the idea that a gay person might be among them; their reaction to difference is not unusual in communities of many countries.  We also see how families react when the accepted norm is overturned.


Director Stephen Lacant has created a film with no easy answers. Whichever way Marc jumps, someone will be hurt and, watching this, I didn’t want anyone to be rejected.

‘Free Fall’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?