The Prisoner’s Wife

Written by Maggie Brookes
Review by Franca Pelaccia

It’s 1944 in occupied Czechoslovakia, and Izabela, a teenage girl, falls in love with Bill King, a British prisoner of war, who has come to her family farm to help. They elope and decide to run away, mainly to escape the advance of the Russians and possibly to connect with her father and brother, who are fighting with the resistance. Izabela dresses as a boy to disguise herself from the enemies, but they are captured and transported to a Nazi POW camp. To protect her identity, Izabela pretends to be the mute Algernon Cousins, and to survive the camp, Bill confides her secret to a select group of British POWs.

The Prisoner’s Wife was inspired by true events, but the novel reads like a news report rather than a novel for three out of its four parts. Izabela is an idealistic teenager at the beginning and doesn’t change or develop. I couldn’t connect to her and therefore couldn’t feel her plight. She shows some strength of character in Part Four, The Long March West, which is the most interesting and gritty part of the novel, but reverts to her idealistic self at the end. The other characters are indistinguishable from each other, and I often didn’t know if I was in Bill’s point of view or Izabela’s. Both are written the same. Also, Izabela speaks in broken English in dialogue but in the narratives, she has perfect English.

I wanted to enjoy the The Prisoner’s Wife, to feel the plight of the characters and be swept into the storyline, but they were one-dimensional. For me, its only saving grace was the final part, which shows the ordeal of the prisoners and the humanity of the village people they pass, and which evokes emotion and empathy.