Céline and Fred are newlyweds building their life on the Channel Island of Jersey when WWII and the threat of German occupation loom on their horizon. The atmosphere on the island makes it necessary to keep Fred’s German nationality a secret. When he is conscripted into the Wehrmacht and sent to occupied France, Céline is left behind to keep their bakery operating. Many islanders evacuate, leaving those who remain to face the German army. Homes and vehicles are requisitioned for the occupied forces, and the islanders now live with fear and helplessness as they struggle to adjust to their new lives.
Swift has given us two remarkable characters in Céline and Fred. Céline is resourceful in providing bread for the islanders and the army with minimal resources. Her bravery and resilience rise to meet the German demands placed on her. When the townspeople find out that Fred is a German, she is ostracized and hated under a cloud of suspicion as a collaborator. The situation worsens when her brother-in-law, Oberleutnant Horst, appears and takes up residence with her. Horst is a ruthless Nazi, whereas his brother Fred is peace-loving and not suited to war. Life in the Wehrmacht is brutal as Fred is shaped into a proper German soldier. He becomes disgusted and disillusioned by what he observes around him. He is assigned as a spy to infiltrate the French Resistance to bring in one of their leaders. As he becomes enmeshed with them, his sympathies shift, and his loyalties divide.
This novel is told in alternating, first-person narratives between Céline and Fred. What distinguishes and elevates this book over other WWII novels are these characters: their relationship, strength of character, and unparalleled bravery. Swift also conveys the good and bad in people on both sides of the war along with the moral complexities they face.