Last week I was hit with a one-two punch of historical fiction. First, it was Kristin Hannah’s brilliant The Great Alone, set mostly in 1970s and 1980s Alaska. Then it was Eliza Graham’s tautly paced The Lines We Leave Behind, a suspenseful story of an amnesia-afflicted woman who is in an asylum post-WWII that played havoc with my nerves.
When the book opens, we’re in 1947 England, and Maud’s psychiatrist Dr. Rosenstein encourages her to write down her memories.
This is what Maud initially remembers: in 1943 Maud Knight was a well-off young woman living in Blitz-era London, seemingly without purpose. She had affairs, she had an unimportant job, but no higher calling. She was approached by a magnetic man, Robert Havers, who expressed admiration for her special talents—including her ability to speak Serbo-Croat, to observe details keenly, to memorize them—and he offered her a position as a British secret agent aiding Partisan (communist) forces fight other fringe groups (and ultimately the Germans) in Yugoslavia and rescuing downed Allies and returning them back home.
Maud accepts the position, and she’s given the name Amber. In Yugoslavia, she learns real danger, real pain, for the first time, and she becomes aware of the complicated lines wartime can drive between family members and neighbors, and how it can test the physical self and the spirit.
That was Maud then.
But something’s happened in the years since, to turn someone who served her country so admirably into a mental asylum resident, and that’s the gripping story that unfolds for Maud, Dr. Rosenstein, and the reader, page by page.
The Lines We Leave Behind tells a story that I haven’t quite heard before, in a place that I haven’t a read a story set in. Graham deftly portrays the toll of war, illuminating how it changes people, and how it makes heroism and depravity possible—sometimes within the same person. This is a heavy story (seriously), but it is also one that is not without redemption, and those slices of light are what I like best about it.
This well-written book is by turns exhilarating and disturbing, and entirely haunting.
**I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
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