I recently put a hand up to be more involved in blog tours because it’s a good way of encountering new, less prominent fiction. With its themes of fascism and struggle, Across Great Divides seemed like a timely story. It begins as fascism rises in 20th Century Germany and tracks one Jewish family, and their friends, as they attempt to escape persecution. The family in question have the money and the connections to get out – so it’s not as harrowing a tale as it might have been, which on the plus side makes it considerably more readable. The tales of the less fortunate are there in the background – we see a little of concentration camps, disappearances, cattle trucks… Issues of class and wealth are there to be considered.
There were a number of things I found especially interesting about this book. Firstly is the way in which it tackles hypocrisy as an issue. The young man of the family is, from his teens involved with groups resisting Hitler. His family feel threatened by this, but it is the work he does, and the contacts he makes that gets them out. In the escape, we see plenty of ordinary people willing to risk their lives to help Jewish people flee to safety. When our Jewish family find themselves in South America, faced with the hideous poverty there, they see it, but do little. When finally they move to South Africa, young Max (very much the hero of the tale for me) gets straight into protesting against Apartheid, much to the horror of his parents, who seem to have forgotten that their lives were saved by his courage, and by the courage of others prepared to stand up for them. We see the daughters of the family pull out from beneath parental disapproval to make their own, more domestic stand for racial equality.
It’s a book that makes the important point that being oppressed doesn’t automatically make you more enlightened than those around you when it comes to responding to the oppression of others. Fear makes us cautious, and fear is a great enabler of oppressors. The courage to put what’s right ahead of what’s personally safe is a rare trait. We might think we’d all be heroes, but a look around at our current situation shows us that we’re still not standing up to Nazis, still turning a blind eye to oppression, all too often. This book is a call to stop and look at our own fear and complicity.
The author writes from a place of family insight, and has a keen sense of location – the writing about places I found the most engaging aspect of the book. Monique Roy’s own family background has something of the fictionalised experience in it – how much is hard to say, but from the notes at the end, this is clearly a tale rooted in lived history. The narratorial voice is quite naive – mostly this worked for me because much of the story follows the young female characters. The author has the charming and unusual habit of including footnotes in the text – translations and historical details the reader probably won’t know are dropped in, held by brackets. It does break the flow of the fiction, while shedding light on it, and is a constant reminder that you’re reading fictionalised history, which I found a really interesting experience as a reader. Some may find it a bit of a jolt. There are sections that read more like non-fiction – I found that helpful but it may not suit everyone.
I think the ideal readership for this book is the YA audience, and people who really don’t know much about 20th century history and need a palatable crash course in what fascism looks like in practice.
Find the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Across-Great-Divides-Monique-Roy/dp/0615846688