June 1940. The black cloud of war brewing in Europe remains far from the rustic, sea-swept Channel Island of Jersey.
That’s until ten-year-old Claudine sees the burning man on the beach.
The resulting occupation from the German troops, under the watchful eye of a tyrant known only as ‘The Commandant’, casts a dark shadow over the life of the Jersey islanders. No more perhaps than that of ten-year-old Claudine, the strongest of the multiple voices that narrate this tale. Readers follow her transition from childhood to adult life, and as her understanding and acceptance of the cruel world of war evolves, it is the agonising loss of her child-like innocence that paints the darkest picture of life under the regime.
Though the islanders would initially pride their sense of community above all else, when it is tested they splinter into fractions, hellbent on having the most and saving only their own skins. Sacred trust and ancient pacts are forgotten as neighbours compete for survival. Friends become enemies; food becomes currency, and humble cottages become suspicious hideaways.
Soon only the odd, the old and the crippled are left. With nothing to barter, their every word censored and no real hope for sanctuary, they band together, forming a new sense of community as they plot to escape to England.
Debut author Lea’s no-holds-barred approach truly depicts what life under German occupation was like, through the eyes of four Jersey residents. Themes include violence, power, deceit and an overwhelming sense of fear throughout, contrasted with our four heroes challenging authority and maintaining their resilience. Lea also brilliantly showcases how real love is far more than affection, with terminal illnesses, mental health and dashed last chances all narrated beautifully among the fallout. Although upsetting, ‘When the Sky Fell Apart’ will inspire you to hold your loved ones close, or take the chance on those who you haven’t yet let into your heart.
Congratulations to Caroline Lea for weaving this intricate tale together, bringing history alive in a raw, honest and beautifully written portrayal of Nazi occupation. I predict great things from this author.