Friday, 11 September 2020

Emma's Review: The Wartime Nanny by Lizzie Page

 Reviewed by Emma Crowley

The Nazis are everywhere now. We must leave Vienna. It might be that soon our letters won’t get out anymore. Can you help, dear sister? Please, ask for us. Send news, and quickly. Please.

London, 1938. Sixteen-year-old Natalie Leeman takes the heart-breaking decision to leave her family behind in Vienna and travel to England to join her cousin Leah in service. Natalie is placed with a wealthy suburban family, the Caplins, as a nanny to their energetic six-year-old.

At first, Natalie is delighted by the huge house and beautiful gardens, but things aren’t as perfect as they seem. While Natalie dotes on their child, she is increasingly wary of Mr Caplin, whose gruff manor and fascist politics scare her. And then there are those still waiting at home – Mama and her two sisters, as well as a blossoming romance with her English tutor that had only just begun.

But when Vienna falls under Nazi rule, Natalie begins to fear for her family, especially her vivacious, tomboy little sister Libby. Then rumours of a possible escape route from mainland Europe called the kindertransport begin to swirl – can Natalie help her family escape the Nazis before it’s too late?

Amazon Links: Kindle or Paperback
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of The Wartime Nanny to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

It’s 2012 and Natalie has tried to find Hugo Caplin several times, now she is in a Jewish care home and she feels she is coming to the end of her life. She is not well and has not gone long left. So starts off the new book from Lizzie Page, The Wartime Nanny and the short prologue was enough to have my interest piqued. Who is Natalie and why does she wanted to find this man named Hugo? I found this book to be very character driven so if you are expecting lots of information about the war and lots of mystery eventually connecting the past to the present than you won’t find it here. 

Instead there is an in-depth exploration of how a choice made by a family to send their daughter away will have long lasting repercussions. The story is not action packed by any means instead there is a slow build up to a finale that will leave you heartbroken when some things are revealed but there is also some little glimmers of hope, acceptance and resolution at the end. This was an enjoyable read and I came to understand and appreciate the story more when I realised that things would evolve at a steady pace rather than have action and subplots strewn throughout every chapter.

We are taken back in time to 1936, Natalie Leeman is newly arrived in Manchester from Vienna. She is employed by the Caplin family as a nanny to their young son Hugo. Right from the beginning Natalie to me was like a fish out of water and completely out of her routine and comfort zone. On reflection what other way could she have been having left everything she had known and her family behind in order to venture to a new country. Her father had died in recent years so she leaves behind her mother and an older sister Rachel, who is now married, and a younger sister Libby. 

Natalie pines for her family and little does she realise that in the long term it will be better that she has this new job. What we now know as the rise of Hitler and discrimination of Jews and which ultimately led to World War Two, well the stirrings of these are being felt in Europe, and Natalie’s family being Jewish are prime targets. But when we first meet Natalie she is not aware of any of this. In fact, I think for the majority of this story she very much remained an innocent. At certain points I wanted to shake her because I felt she became complacent and almost immune to the dangers her family were experiencing. I thought she needed a push in the right direction to try and do more but then on the other hand she was very helpless as she was in a different country.

In 1936 life for Jews in Austria was not good with discrimination coming to the fore and deprivation and unemployment rife. Natalie viewed this new opportunity to work with the Caplin family as a way of working on her translator skills and to get some new life experiences. I enjoyed reading of the detail of her daily life with the family and it was evident that a very special bond was being built between herself and Hugo. She became like a surrogate mother to him as his own mother Carol seemed to be absent. I couldn’t warm to the character of Carol at all, she seemed lost in her own little life as if she alone solely existed in it and also she was trying to get roles in the acting world and it was as if her son and husband didn’t exist. Carol had her eye on other men and what Natalie discovers disturbs her. To be honest the entire Caplin family apart from Hugo, I found to be super creepy. They made me feel uneasy so I can only imagine how Natalie felt living with them. The other servants who worked for the family became friends with Natalie and if it wasn’t for her cousin Leah working for another family she would have been very much alone, distraught and without vision or aim.

I don’t think Natalie was the strongest of people in terms of her ability to get out there and do things on her own. She needed to be urged to take matters into her own hands and despite constant pressure from Leah that things were further taking a turn for the worst in Austria, I just thought Natalie did too little too late until eventually she had no other choice but to put some sort of plan into action. The letters that feature every now and again throughout the story brought home the real dangers Natalie’s family were experiencing in Austria and they were heart-breaking to read. Natalie slowly starts to realise that she was one of the lucky ones that in fact she has escaped from Austria and that her mother sent her away to work because she could sense what was coming down the line. Natalie comes to understand that her mother made a huge sacrifice for her and that Natalie wasn’t forgotten or abandoned. Natalie feels that her boyfriend Rudi has forgotten all about her as he never writes anymore but this aspect of the story was actually brilliantly written and I loved how cleverly it came together towards the end.

When Natalie finally realises the seriousness of the situation that has befallen her family, I thought bravo she will finally get her act together and try and do something to help them. She visits the labour relief agency but is unsuccessful but she keeps persisting. Asking the Caplins for help with a visa was again met with a negative response. I think no matter what the Caplins had been asked to do they would not have put themselves out for anybody. So at the turning point in the book finally I saw a glimmer of strength in Natalie. It was like the wool had come down from her eyes and she was determined her family would be safe and she would get them out of Austria. Would the Kindertransport be the answer to her prayers?

The Wartime Nanny was an interesting read and Lizzie Page has again opened my eyes to an aspect of the war that I would never even have considered before as in what happened to those people from European countries living in England pre-war? How did they cope with knowing their family members were caught up in so much danger and persecution? The not being able to help or not getting news must have been awful and Lizzie Page highlighted this very well. Some parts of the story fell flat for me and not much seemed to happen at all, rather days Natalie spent with Hugo were just recounted, but then I thought towards the end things really picked up a gear and I wanted nothing but the best and positive outcome for Natalie and her family. Whether that occurs or not you will have to read and find out for yourself.

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