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Postcards from No Man's Land (1999)

by Aidan Chambers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Dance Sequence (5)

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7422223,426 (3.68)35
Alternates between two stories--contemporarily, seventeen-year-old Jacob visits a daunting Amsterdam at the request of his English grandmother--and historically, nineteen-year-old Geertrui relates her experience of British soldiers's attempts to liberate Holland from its German occupation.
  1. 00
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
“Nothing in Amsterdam is what it appears to be.” This is a note that seventeen year old Jacob receives from a boy that he thought was a girl, after they finish having a beer together, and just before his coat and money are stolen. All this happens within the first ten pages of this novel, which follows both Jacob in modern Amsterdam and a teenage girl named Geertrui, living in Holland during World War II.

Geertrui narrates her story in alternating chapters, while Jacob’s is presented in third person. Both begin as somewhat naïve characters, but quickly find themselves in situations where they are forced into situations which require mature thinking. Geertrui is a sheltered nineteen year old girl living with her parents in a small village in Holland when the Germans invade. She finds herself nursing British soldiers, including one named Jacob. Along with her brother, his best friend, and Jacob, she escapes to a farm outside the village, where they attempt to stay concealed for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the modern Jacob finds himself at the mercy of a kindly woman who helps him contact the people he is supposed to be meeting up with, a young man named Daan, and his mother, Tessel. Tessel remains offstage for sometime, with her mother, who is terminally ill, so Daan is the one who shows Jacob around. He also happens to be friends with the young man who Jacob encountered earlier, which makes for a delightfully awkward and confusing conversation over coffee.

The reader will understand the connection between the two stories long before the narrative brings them together. Both Geertrui and Jacob have sexual experiences and encounters which require them to rethink their previous ideas and assumptions. Geertrui is a thoughtful and eloquent writer, and quotes from poems and English proverbs litter her story. Jacob has long been drawn to the writings of Anne Frank, and in a few chapters, expounds on how important reading her diary has been to him. After having visited her house, it causes him to reflect on how personal he has made her writing.

This is a well-written historical novel, with strong male and female characters. Because of the issues discussed by and encountered by different characters, I would recommend it to older or mature teens only. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
[This is a review I wrote in 2008]

**A thoughtful and serious novel of teenage self-discovery. Carnegie Medal winner in 1999.**

'Growing up is, after all, only the understanding that one's unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.' (Doris Lessing, "The Golden Notebook"). - a quote taken from one of the chapter headings; snippets that Jacob's grandmother sends to him each week on a postcard.

With one central theme - the theme of love - there are two main stories to follow. Primarily, the story is about 17-year-old Jacob Todd from England, who lives with his grandmother Sarah, and is now visiting the Netherlands for the first time for the commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem, where his grandfather fought in the Second World War. Jacob is visiting a Dutch family, at his grandmother's request, as she has hurt her hip and is unable to travel for the Arnhem commemorations. The eldest member of the family is the terminally ill Geertrui, and it's Geertrui's story of her experiences during the war that make up the other story throughout the novel.

Jacob begins his holiday with mixed feelings. He feels like an intruder into Geertrui's family, a stranger in a strange place. Even his long-held love for Anne Frank, through obsessive reading of her Diary, feels different after he has visited her house in Amsterdam. Jacob's brief holiday becomes a journey of self-discovery, encountering a gay friend, an elderly lady he befriends when she helps him after he is mugged, the liberal lifestyle of Daan (the son of the family he is visiting), the emotions of the Arnhem commemorations and his encounter with a girl to whom he feels instantly attracted, not to mention his exploration of the subject of euthanasia after meeting the terminally ill Geertrui. Through all of his experiences, Jacob finds he has begun to fall in love with the city of Amsterdam itself.

Where Jacob's story is one of discovery, Geertrui's story of her time as a young woman during the occupation is one of intensity, and living each day one day at a time. Geertrui's story is told in the first person, looking back from her elderly years to the most significant time of her life. Geertrui makes you feel and live those days with her. Her worries are your worries; the immediacy of war is brought vividly to the reader to share and experience with the young Geertrui. Of her story - well, you must read the book to find out more!

A very rewarding read for sophisticated teens, especially those beginning to question the world and how they fit into the whole. Exploration of themes of sexuality, morals, personality, appearances, life, death, friendships and more, show how there is a place for everyone, however different. I would recommend the book for ages 12+, adults included. ( )
  ArdizzoneFan | Nov 12, 2020 |
Details the parallel stories of a Dutch woman falling in love with an English soldier whom she nurses and hides during WWII and of a young man visiting Amsterdam for the first time while dealing with his occasional bouts of depression, his social anxiety and his sexuality. The two plots are joined by the relationship of the young man (grandson) and the soldier (grandfather).
There are good things about this one (the stories are good and I enjoyed the way in which they are entwined), but Chambers tries to do too much here, taking on not only the telling of two separate tales and the fleshing out of two main characters, but also trying to add a history of a specific instance during the war via direct quotes from first-hand accounts, along with philosophical dialogue on the nature of love, the pointlessness of war and even a slightly hackneyed pro-and-con on euthanasia. The result feels disjointed and cluttered. ( )
  electrascaife | Jan 6, 2018 |
So now I feel incredibly old fashioned. Young adult fiction? Definitely not like the fiction when I was a young adult. Definitely not the fiction I'd be pleased to have my children read as young adults. Maybe I'm incredibly naive, but having such sexual/near sexual experiences at 17 blows my mind.

The scenes aren't too graphic, but enough to cause me discomfort. And even though I don't like some description, what was offered was slanted. This is very obviously written by a man who thinks penises are the end all. Good descriptions of at least three of those. And even though there are actually male-female experiences here, not much mention of her parts. Weird.

Quite surprised this won so many awards. I'd not recommend this book. To anyone. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
Jacob goes to Holland to attend a memorial for his grandfather, a British soldier who died there during WWII. His stay is short, but he makes discoveries about himself, others and a long-hidden family secret. ( )
  lilibrarian | Mar 9, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Great book to curl up with, blankets & cocoa required.
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aidan Chambersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hansson, JanAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuick, KatarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Not knowing his way around, he set off back the way he had come. But changed his mind about picking up a tram to the railway station, not yet ready to return to Haarlem, and kept on walking along the canal, the Prinsengracht, still too jangled by what he had just seen to notice where he was and too preoccupied to wonder where he was going.
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Alternates between two stories--contemporarily, seventeen-year-old Jacob visits a daunting Amsterdam at the request of his English grandmother--and historically, nineteen-year-old Geertrui relates her experience of British soldiers's attempts to liberate Holland from its German occupation.

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