‘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?