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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Benny Lindelauf
Age Range: 12+
The Boon family are back in Fing’s War, Dutch author Benny Lindelauf’s follow-up to Nine Open Arms. It’s 1938 and the Nazis are on the march in Germany. Fourteen-year-old narrator Josephine “Fing” is one of nine – her father, four brothers, three sisters, and formidable grandmother, Oma Mei. They manage to eke out a meagre living in the tiny cigar factory that their father runs abutting their dilapidated home known as Nine Open Arms. Fing’s father is a bit of a dreamer and he decides to expand his business by growing his own Tobacco plants to harvest, but unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan: his crop isn’t successful and then when the Germans invade the Netherlands he and his sons are taken away and sent to work Germany.
Fing is a bright student and has the opportunity of a scholarship to study to be a teacher, although Oma Mei has different ideas and this is scuppered when her grandmother insists she takes a job working for the German wife of the Cigar King, who hires her to be a companion to her niece, the difficult and manipulative Liesl. As the Second World War intensifies Fing and her family must adjust and navigate the harsh reality of life living under German occupation and the impact it has on them and their small town on the border of Holland and Germany.
Lindelauf’s powerful novel, excellently translated by John Nieuwenhuizen, successfully combines the different genres of fantasy, historical and literary fiction. The first part of the novel weaves an everyday narrative of the fortunes of the Boon family as Fing relays the domestic disasters to a false accusation of theft. However, with the second half, the tone darkens as it reflects the effects of living under occupation.
Lindelauf effortlessly contrasts his narrative from relaying comical anecdotes to the harshness and brutality of war. He also enriches the novel’s language by including Yiddish, German and Limburgish, a Dutch dialect (with useful translations at the front of the book as well as a list of characters). Fing can be rather unlikable at times; sometimes being unkind, resentful, or angry. The relationships between characters can be complicated too, demonstrating that nothing is black and white in wartime: Fing’s first love becomes a Nazi-sympathising Blackshirt and Liesl turns out to be Jewish – two conflicting sets of emotion that Fing must work through – still care for a boyfriend whose beliefs are a total antithesis of her own or save a girl who she doesn’t really like.
Fing’s War is a book of many layers, one that will leave an impression long after it is put down. Although this is a stand-alone novel, there is no doubt that the experience is so much richer if you have first read Nine Open Arms, a 2015 Batchelder Honor book.