When the Sky Fell Apart

Written by Caroline Lea
Review by Edward James

The Channel Islands were one of the more peaceful places to spend the Second World War. They were occupied by the Germans in June 1940 without opposition, there was only one air raid during the war (the raid which gives the book its title), and they were liberated peacefully after the war was over. At the islanders’ request, the British called off their commando raids to avoid reprisals against the civilian population. There was no armed resistance.

But this was no paradise. Hunger became starvation, although the story in this book ends before the brutal starvation winter of 1944. There was also a lack of medicines for the chronically sick. Hunger ate away not only bodies but souls, destroying conscience, kinship and community. Lea describes the first two years of the occupation through the eyes of three islanders and an English doctor, following the compromises they made and the deceits they practised to survive. Eventually four of them and a defecting German soldier try to escape, with mixed success.

This is a book about moral choices, and once the choices are made, it becomes a tense thriller. My only reservation is that the German commandant in the book is almost a caricature of evil, far worse than either of the real life commandants. The moral choices would have been more difficult if he too had had his problems of conscience.