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?