Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The People-In-Between: A review of the book, Helena

On April 9, Mary Hawkins invited Australian author,  Jo-anne Berthelsen, to speak to us about her writing journey. In addition to telling us about her life as a writer "down under.  Jo-anne  offered a copy of her first published novel, Helena,  as a giveaway. I was the fortunate recipient of this book.

Based on a true story, the book tells of a gifted Czechoslovakian pianist and music student, Helena. 

A few months before the outbreak of World War II, twenty-year-old Helena meets and marries Stefan, also a talented musician. Both Helena's father and Stefan are heavily involved in the underground movement in their homeland. During the following years, Helena's faith is frequently put to the test as she loses family, friends and the entire way of life that seemed so secure before the war.  

When I started reading this book, it took me a little getting used to the omniscient point of view that Jo-anne uses. However, I soon got into the story and read it within a few days. It presented, for me, a side of the war which I had never thought about; where friends are called to fight on opposing sides. All wars between countries have people on both sides, and most books are clearly written from the point of view of one or the other. In this book, we read of a hard-working, family-oriented people, who side neither with Britain nor Nazi Germany, yet are sucked into this cruel war.  They represent for me, The People In-Between.

Helena was originally intended to be the first section of a two-part book, and although the book doesn't end with a cliff-hanger, it certainly leaves us with a question mark. We say goodbye to Helena as she stands on deck, saying farewell to her native land. We wonder, with her, what life will be like in her new promised land of Australia. 

Although the book can be read as a stand-alone novel, most readers, like me, will  look forward to continuing her story in Book II, "All the Days of my Life."

You can read more about Jo-anne, or order one or both these books on her website by clicking here.
As a matter of interest, can you think of any other books or articles about the "people-in-between?" Those people who don't belong on either side of a conflict between nations, but get sucked into the chaos and horror? Perhaps some of you have been in that situation yourselves? Share your thoughts briefly below.

SHIRLEY M. CORDER is an RN, a pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother and multi-published freelance writer. You can contact Shirley through her website or follow her on Twitter.


  1. When I finished high school, I went to Europe with a group of girls from my school. Our bus driver was a delightful, bubbly, protective German man who had been in a POW camp in Arizona. He had been very young, swept along in the Hitler youth by peer pressure. It was my first experience of meeting someone from "the other side." Knowing him made it difficult to watch war movies where Germans are indiscriminately blow up and treated as less-than-human must-be-bad-guys. It makes me think that every soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan was once a baby and has a story that would help us understand why he is on the side he is today. One of the things I like about Jeanette Windle's Veiled Freedom is that is shows those different points-of-view.

  2. Shirl, great review! Jo-anne's book sounds like a fascinating read :-)

  3. Hi Shirley, I've finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago and I also enjoyed it. It wasn't your average war novel which made it more interesting for me and the fact that it was based on a true story. I'm looking forward to reading finding out how she copes with Australian life.

  4. Sounds like an interesting story. Thanks, Shirl, for bringing this book to our attention.

    I think the Aids orphans would fall into this category of "people-in-between?" They've been sucked into the chaos and horror of this disease; they don't belong in the conflict, but they're there, living daily with the consequences of Aids.

  5. Thank you for your comments. The first time I became aware of the "people-in-between" was when I read the words of a song -- I've long since forgotten the author -- about a mission station under attack by terrorists during the Rhodesian bush war. The inhabitants of the African villages were truly caught in-between the terrorist gangs on one side and the security forces on the other. So tragic.
    LeAnne is so right. Those fighting on both sides are someone's sons, brothers, husbands or daddies.

  6. As much as I enjoyed this first book, I certainly found the sequel even more fascinating. It gave me a real glimpse into some of the joys and sorrows our migrants to Australia had to face.