Monday 26 October 2020

Burning Island by Suzanne Goldring @SuzanneGoldring @bookouture #BurningIsland #BookReview #Corfu


They were not her children. But she would protect them with her life…

Corfu 1944. Though they don’t know it, five-year-old Matilde and three-year-old Anna have kissed their mother for the last time. The Nazis have reached their sun-scorched home, and they are being taken to a place of safety, on the north-eastern tip of the rocky island, to be hidden at great risk by kindly Agata and her husband until the terrible war is over.

Matilde and Anna’s tears are soothed by Agata’s bedtime stories, but she is always alert. So far no soldiers have ventured down the steep rocky hillside to their secret haven, but Agata knows they are constantly scouring the island for missing Jews. And then, on a day when Agata’s husband is away, a German soldier appears…

2006. Under a baking June sun, Amber and her husband arrive in Corfu from England, hoping for a fresh start. But not everyone is pleased by their arrival, and with the pressures of pregnancy, the couple grow further apart. Desperate to find a sense of belonging for herself and her unborn child, Amber finds herself drawn to the local story of two little girls, left by their parents and hidden for their own protection.

But there are some who would rather Amber left Corfu’s terrible history well in the past. Can Amber uncover the heart-breaking truth about the two little girls, and what happened after a German soldier took a swim in the bay by their house? If she does, can the secrets of the past help her find happiness, or send her running from the island, alone?

Burning Island by Suzanne Goldring was published on 20 January 2020 by Bookouture. I bought my copy early this year with the intention of reading it whilst on my holiday in Corfu in June. Of course, we all know what happened in the world since then and my June holiday was cancelled.
However, we did manage to get away to Corfu for a week at the beginning of October and I read this wonderful, heart breaking and emotionally stunning novel as I sat, looking out to sea in a village on the North West coast of the island.

I'm a huge fan of novels set in Greece, and am especially fond of Corfu. We have visited over twenty times and it's become a very special place for us. I've got to know lots of people who live there, I've watched children grow up and become adults, usually working in the family business. It's an island of wonder and much beauty, and a vivid history, far more than just a holiday destination.

Burning Island is a story told over two time periods. The reader is transported back to 1944, just as the war in Europe is ending, and also to 2006, as Amber and her husband James leave England for a new life on Corfu. The stories are linked by history, and whilst I was more engrossed by the historical thread of the novel, the modern-day narrative was also intriguing and well written.

Just four days after the bombing of Normandy in June 1944, one of the most tragic and horrendous acts of cruelty was carried out on Corfu. The island had previously been occupied by Italy, who surrendered to the Allied forces, and after years of terror, death, starvation and suffering, it would be safe to assume that the islanders were beginning to feel safe again. However, for the small Jewish population of Corfu, this would be the most deviant and horrifying period of their war. The Nazis arrived and rounded up the Jewish community; many of them elderly, or children, and ordered that they be deported and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The author concentrates on two young children; Matilde and Anna. Their parents were determined that these two girls would not be taken and entrusted their care to their friend Agata and her husband who lived on the remote mountain side. The author's description of the absolute horror that the Jewish community endured; being kept in the blazing sun, with little food or water in the town fort, and then the awful, barbaric treatment as they were transported across Europe in trains, like cattle is so emotionally charged. There were times when I had to set the book aside, to gather my thoughts, before I could continue.

The modern-day story is told in alternate chapters, giving a welcome break from the despair that one is reading about in the historical part of the novel. Amber and James are an ambitious young couple who are determined to make their new venture work. However, they meet typically Greek resistance to their plans, and it's clear that they have to choose their friends really carefully as they proceed. James is headstrong and makes rash decisions; about his project, and about the people he chooses to work with. Amber is emotionally fraught, newly pregnant, in a strange country and increasingly conscious of the difficulties that they face. Their story is interwoven with the events of the historical events in the book too, and it is clear that there are long-held beliefs that may put Amber and James in danger. 

Burning Island is an absorbing and emotionally charged read and I learnt so much about parts of Corfu's history that I had no idea about before. It is so well researched and the sense of place is so well portrayed, as is the essence of the people of Corfu. I'm sure that reading this whilst enjoying the beauty that is Corfu around me, added a great depth to my experience. 

One of my favourite reads of the year, without a doubt. I certainly read more from this author. Highly recommended by me.

Following an eventful career as a public relations consultant, specialising in business and travel, Suzanne Goldring turned to writing the kind of novels she likes to read, about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. 
Her debut novel MY NAME IS EVA draws on her experience of volunteering in a care home and was partially inspired by a cache of wartime love letters which were saved from the flames. 
Her second novel, BURNING ISLAND, is set in Corfu, a place of fun and beauty but also tremendous tragedy.
Suzanne writes in her thatched cottage in Hampshire and a seaside cottage in Cornwall.

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