Thursday, 7 June 2018

Book Review: THE LOVE THAT I HAVE by James Moloney

Author: James Moloney
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

"The dead should know they are loved."

Book Description:

Margot Baumann has left school to take up her sister's job in the mailroom of a large prison. But this is Germany in 1944, and the prison is Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin.

Margot is shielded from the camp's brutality as she has no contact with prisoners. But she does handle their mail and, when given a cigarette lighter and told to burn the letters, she is horrified by the callous act she must carry out with her own hands. This is especially painful since her brother was taken prisoner at Stalingrad and her family has had no letters from him. So Margot steals a few letters, intending to send them in secret, only to find herself drawn to their heart-rending words of hope, of despair, and of love.

This is how Margot comes to know Dieter Kleinschmidt - through the beauty and the passion of his letters to his girlfriend. And since his girlfriend is also named Margot, it is like reading love letters written for her.

My musings: 

Apart from my usual preferred genre of mystery / suspense, I have a weakness for historical novels set during WW2 and can never resist a new angle on this dark chapter in human history. When I saw that James Moloney’s new novel, The Love That I Have, was being compared with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is one of my all-time favourite novels, I knew I had to read it!

It is perhaps no surprise that Moloney, a successful children’s author, would choose a sweet and naive sixteen-year-old girl as his main protagonist in a story of hope and love. Don’t we all remember that turbulent time in our teens, on the cusp of adulthood, when all of life still lay ahead of us and anything was possible? Even in the darkest of times, teenage girls will still swoon over handsome young men and dream of meeting their one true love, their happily-ever-after, even if the world around them is rapidly disintegrating.

At sixteen, Margot Baumann is an innocent when it comes to love, and with youthful optimism she believes that it will always triumph over adversity. I really enjoyed seeing how the foundations of the political views she has been indoctrinated with under Hitler’s reign slowly crumble when she is being confronted with those purest of human emotions – the will to survive and love. Love expressed in the words of Konzentrationslager prisoners, whose letters she secretly reads in the camp’s mail room. Letters that will never make it to their intended recipients, because Margot, the camp’s new mail clerk, has been tasked with burning them. Her moral dilemma is very well explored here – on one hand she has been told that Jews are not really human, but on the other hand she can see that their letters prove otherwise. These are people just like her brother, who is imprisoned in a POW camp in Russia, writing home to their loved ones, voicing their hope of seeing them again. One of the letters that fall into Margot’s hands is from a political prisoner called Dieter Kleinschmidt, expressing his love and longing for his girlfriend, whose name coincidentally is also Margot. I could easily imagine that a young naive girl could fall in love with a person’s letters – and that she would act impulsively to “save” the young man who has captured her heart with his writing. I really liked Margot – she was sweet and innocent and courageous.

My own sixteen-year-old self would have been totally enamoured by this story and the idea of pure love through the written word, the meeting of two souls at a time when death was only ever a heartbeat away. However, my old cynical self was not so easily swayed, pointing out the plot holes and the implausibility of some of Margot’s actions. I was reading this book like a split personality, the little angel on one shoulder whispering: “How sweet, how beautiful!” Whilst the little devil on the other sneered disdainfully: “This would never work – this could never happen!” This novel is not marketed as a YA novel, although I thought that it would probably work better for a less cynical, younger audience than the seen-it-all jaded reader that I am. Perhaps there is a reason I prefer dark and sinister murder mysteries! So, whilst parts of the story captured my heart and offered a fresh new angle to an episode in history that has featured in thousands of books, there was a lot of suspension of disbelief necessary for me to go along with parts of the plot.


In summary, The Love That I Have offers a unique angle to one of the darkest chapters of human history, with a courageous and innocent heroine that reinforces the message that love can indeed triumph over hate and adversity. With a young teenage cast and a rich historical setting, it will appeal to a younger audience or lovers of the genre who are looking for a different approach to your typical holocaust novel in which the “good” and the “bad” are clearly defined. However, readers who find it difficult to suspend disbelief may struggle with certain parts of this story.

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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