Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Parachute in the Lime Tree

A Parachute in the Lime Tree This novel is published by The History Press Ireland – an independent publisher I’d never heard of before.
Fiction is a new outing for this publisher, with just two fiction novels on their list so far. From reading this book, I’d say it’s a clever move.

A Parachute in the Lime Tree is a very good novel. Set in Ireland during the Second World War, it follows the story of four young people – Oskar and Elsa from Germany, and Kitty and Charlie from Ireland.

Oskar and Elsa grew up side by side in Berlin, falling in love as teenagers, before being separated when Elsa’s Jewish family were forced to flee the country. They move to Holland and, from there, Elsa travels to Ireland with the Kindertransports. War-damaged Oskar is determined to find her. During an air raid over Belfast, he jumps from an airplane and his parachute becomes entangled in the lime tree of Kitty Hennessy’s garden.

Kitty, a dead ringer for Hedy Lamarr, has given up her life in Dublin to look after her sick mother in rural Ireland. Desperate for excitement, Oskar’s sudden appearance couldn’t have come at a better time.

Meanwhile, unaware Oskar is looking for her, Kitty is trying to get on with her life. She’s living with a Jewish family in Dublin, has started playing the piano again and is courting medical student, Charlie, who has fallen madly in love with her.

The novel is utterly absorbing as we follow the lives of these four people. Annemarie Neary does a wonderful job of getting inside each character’s head. I found myself racing through the pages, desperate to find out how their stories are resolved. Because young love is complicated, no matter what the era. Poor Kitty is in love with Oskar, who’s chasing after Elsa who, in turn, is falling for the lovely Charlie. How will they all get what they want? Can they? Should they? Believe me, you will want to find out.

There are so many things to praise here. The characters are compelling: fully-rounded, flawed individuals all trying to find their own meaning in life. Neary writes from different narrative perspectives, so we get right inside the heads of each character. She does this effortlessly, switching with elegant ease from voice to voice. And she can write. This is a literary novel. Beautiful descriptions fill each page (my favourite was the description of Oskar’s arrival in Ireland: ‘a man who’d floated down to earth like a dandelion clock’).

At its heart this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of terrible adversity. In that way, it reminded me of another novel I read recently, the brilliant 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson. Like Hodgkinson, Neary’s characters are survivors, finding new meaning in a world changed forever by the ravages of war.

After reading the novel, I did some research on the author and learned her work has won several writing prizes and been short listed for many more, including the prestigious Bridport short story prize. I’m not surprised. This is a great novel by a very talented writer.

Reviewed by Sheila Bugler

Bookclub comments/reviews

A lyrical, charming and unpredictable story of what happens at the edges of war. The ripple-effect of what happened in late 1930s Germany reaches as far as Amsterdam and Dunkerin.
German neighbours Oskar and Elsa might have been lovers, but she is Jewish. They are separated in the build-up to war.
Oskar cannot forget her and learns that after a stint in the Netherlands, Elsa was removed to Ireland. He decides to desert from the German army and find his love. One night after a bombing raid, he leaps from his aircraft, with no idea where he will land. He ends up in a lime tree.
Said lime tree is in Kitty’s garden. She’s desperate for excitement and a German soldier landing in the garden is just the thing to relieve the boredom. But as Kitty falls for the German, his focus is unwavering. He’s looking for Elsa.
Elsa’s story is touching and complex, a musical prodigy whose life is torn asunder by politics and prejudice. While her youthful love searches for her, she finds solace in Charlie. The course of love does not run smooth, but Neary avoids cliché and delivers a bittersweet tale against a backdrop of horrors.
My only reservation with this beautiful, richly detailed book was with the character of Kitty. Her naïveté seemed excessive and sometimes overdone to serve the plot. This discomfort aside, I found this a delight and an insight into how far the effects of conflict can reach.
JJ Marsh

A beautiful love story that haunts you long after you’ve finished, A Parachute in the Lime Tree drew me in right from the start, with the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Jewish family in Berlin in 1939 and the discovery of some of their belongings in the attic of the house next door.

Childhood sweethearts, Oskar and Elsa, are separated by war, and Elsa is eventually transported to Ireland with the Kindertransport. When Oskar, now a Luftwaffe airman disillusioned by the war, discovers the letters written to him by Elsa, but intercepted by his mother, he embarks on a reckless journey to find her.

Naïve Irish girl, Kitty, finds a parachute hanging from a lime tree in her garden and, shortly after, discovers Oskar, who has jumped from his plane during a bombing raid. Only too happy for a bit of excitement in her dull life, Kitty pursues Oskar, and falls in love. But Oskar is fuelled by a single goal: finding Elsa. Meanwhile, a young medical student, Charlie, falls in love with Elsa, who is trying piece her life back together.

We experience the heart-breaking lives, loves and and losses of Elsa, Charlie, Kitty and Oskar, the journey taking us from Normandy, to rural Dunkerin, to the Jewish quarter in Dublin, and finally to New York.
This beautifully-written story combines humour, suspense and poignancy, and brilliantly captures the historical period. The narrative shifts effortlessly from character to character, and I engaged so much with every one of them that I felt each character’s story could have continued on a little longer, rather than the quite long wrap-up at the end. Despite this very minor reservation, I found it a compelling read from the beginning right through to the deeply moving, surprise ending.
Liza Perrat

What a beautiful ending! *wipes away a tear* This was a super read, with evocative language and well-drawn characters that carried this intelligent story of love and loss during WWII. Have to admit I knew little about Irish history of this period, so found the whole transportation of Jewish people from Germany really informative. I found myself drawn to Oscar and Elsa more so than Kitty and Charles, although I'm not entirely sure why. I felt Kitty was a little blurred as a character, and I never felt a connection with Charles, whereas both German characters really lived and breathed the story. The tone and language reminded me of another of my favourite WWII novels, 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson. There is something compelling yet almost innocent about the writing that seems to suit the chaos of the setting. Super stuff. If I had any negative points it would be that the stories ended too soon, I felt the characters had more to say and although the summary covered all important points, I was still left with a sense of their stories being incomplete somehow. Or maybe I was just sad to say goodbye! 
Gillian Hamer

A Parachute in the Lime Tree is about four characters whose lives are deeply affected by WWII: Oskar, Elsa, Charlie, and Kitty. The war stifles love affairs, as any war does. Once again there is a couple who are separated because one is German, Oskar, and the other is Jewish, Elsa. Kitty finds Oskar, the man in a parachute in her lime tree, captivating, but his goal is to locate Elsa, who is in Ireland. He isn’t successful and lives his life without her. Charlie, a medical student, ends up marrying Elsa.
Each character has a different point of view regarding the war. Even though Ireland took a neutral stance in the war, Oskar, Elsa, Charlie, and Kitty did not think neutrality. The opinions and feelings of the characters are learned by sharing in their daily lives. A Parachute in the Lime Tree is a perfect and entertaining way to learn the history of WWII, with the emphasis in Ireland.
I experienced a difficult time reading the first few chapters, although the separations aren’t labeled as chapters. It took time to become comfortable because the narratives kept changing, followed by numerous alternating characters. I viewed it as a good challenge to sort through as I continued reading. By the end of the book I had mastered Annemarie Neary’s writing style.
The ending is unpredictable, which I appreciate the most. The descriptions are vivid and I pictured each historical setting as I read A Parachute in the Lime Tree. Annemarie Neary integrates love, suspense, and humor in her well researched novel.
As an aspiring writer, I am going to reread A Parachute in the Lime Tree by Annemarie Neary, because her style was unique and at times a challenge. I know I can benefit from reading different writing styles.
Readers of all ages who want to learn the history of WWII will enjoy this historical novel.
Mary Crocco

This beautifully written novel explores the lives of four young people whose stories intertwine during WW2. Oskar is a Luftwaffe conscript who finds his role in the war abhorrent, and as the dreams of his first love, Elsa, overshadows his hope for the future, he makes a dramatic and startling decision. Left behind in Berlin, Elsa faces a bleak future until she is safety moved to Ireland as part of the Kindertransport, where the dream of playing music carries her through the uncertainty of not knowing whether her parents remain alive. In rural Ireland, Kitty finds Oskar trapped in his parachute in one of the lime trees in her garden, and from the beginning is determined to keep him her own special secret. Meanwhile, Charlie, a young medical student, becomes enamoured of Elsa when he hears her play beautiful music on her piano.
I was completely drawn into the story from the beginning, the characterisation is truly excellent, and thanks to some skilful storytelling we get to know Oskar, Elsa, Kitty and Charlie very well. The story moves adeptly through their lives, intertwining where it can, but also focusing on their individual stories, which I found deeply moving. From the sleepiness of rural Ireland, to the horrors of Berlin, the story captures time and place perfectly, where the indecision of youth is combined with the uncertainty of living through the horror of war. Without doubt, Annemarie Neary has a real talent for writing; her ability to weave together all the strands of the story is evident in her thoughtful narrative, and with meticulous care and attention she brings the story to a fitting and emotional conclusion, which saw me reaching for the tissue box.
Jo Barton

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