Tapestry of War

Written by Jane MacKenzie
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

June 1941, Alexandria. World War II is dragging on, and the British and their allies seem to be incapable of stopping Rommel’s advance. Fran has lived all her life in cosmopolitan Alexandria, where she works for the independent weekly, The Alexander Journal, which is trying to hold the different communities of Egyptians, Copts, Jews, British and French together – and to report the news impartially and accurately. Fran meets a young, badly wounded naval officer, Jim MacNeill, a Highlander from the Isle of Islay, and they gradually become close. But the war, which throws people together, can equally separate them, sometimes forever. Back on Islay, in the Hebrides, the war is also turning people’s lives upside down. Things are hotting up; the Americans have arrived, together with Poles working with the Free French. The focus of the war has begun to shift to North Africa. Jim’s sister, Catriona, has just finished her nurse’s training, where she specialized in physiotherapy – an area of expertise increasingly needed when severe war wounds requiring possible amputation can be life-changing for the victims. Braving her father’s disapproval, she applies to work in the big hospital on the Clyde.

I enjoyed this book; it captures both the idyllic pre-war expatriates’ lives in Egypt – though thoughtful people were well aware that the British days in Egypt were numbered – but doesn’t flinch from facing the horrors of war. The different communities are fragmenting and, where there was once friendship and easy social intercourse, this is giving way to mistrust and hardened attitudes. It is a time of increasing tension, both personally and nationally. The war will be a testing time for everyone, young and old. Tapestry of War is a well-researched, emotionally involving book which gets across that difficult thing, the zeitgeist of the times, and grips the reader until the very last page.