I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this for review and thought it sounded like the kind of thing my mum loves to red, so I asked her if she'd do a guest review for me. She agreed and so here is her thoughts on The Girl Under The Olive Tree!
May 1941 and the island of Crete is invaded by paratroopers from the air. After a lengthy fight, thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers are forced to take to the hills or become escaping PoWs, sheltered by the Cretan villagers.
Sixty years later, Lois West and her young son, Alex, invite feisty Great Aunt Pen to a special eighty-fifth birthday celebration on Crete, knowing she has not been back there since the war.
Penelope George - formerly Giorgidiou - is reluctant to go but is persuaded by the fact it is the 60th anniversary of the Battle. It is time for her to return and make the journey she never thought she'd dare to. On the outward voyage from Athens, she relives her experiences in the city from her early years as a trainee nurse to those last dark days stranded on the island, the last female foreigner.
When word spreads of her visit, and old Cretan friends and family come to greet her, Lois and Alex are caught up in her epic pilgrimage and the journey which leads her to a reunion with the friend she thought she had lost forever - and the truth behind a secret buried deep in the past ...
The Girl Under the Olive Tree is a story of one girl’s journey through adversity and survival against all the odds, and of the people she meets along the way.
We first meet Penny George as a young girl in 1936, trying to evade her mother’s plans to launch her into society and marry her off to a ‘suitable’ man. She definitely has other plans, but the problem is how to escape. Her interest in archaeology is fuelled by meeting Bruce, a New Zealander with a passion for the subject. Unbeknown to her, their paths will cross many times in the years to come.
Penny’s escape from her mother’s clutches comes unexpectedly, when her brother-in-law is posted to Athens and she is allowed to go for a visit. During her extended stay with her sister and brother-in-law, she is able to follow her interest in archaeology, but, with the threat of war coming, she decides to train as a Red Cross nurse. She meets up with a young Jewish girl, Yolanda, who trains with her, and the two become firm friends, Penny learning a lot about the Jewish people and their customs in the process. Yolanda, like Penny, has parents who wish to map out her future and choose a husband for her, which is not entirely to her liking.
With war clouds gathering, British people are leaving Greece, but Penny is determined to stay behind and carry on with her chosen vocation. She has inherited Greek colouring from her paternal grandfather, and can pass herself off as Greek, especially when she reverts to the family name of Georgiou and dyes her blonde hair dark. Despite attempts to make her leave Greece many times, Penny finally ends up in Crete, nursing wounded soldiers. The German invasion and occupation of the island brings new challenges, and Penny becomesheavily involved with the resistance movement there.
In the course of her nursing duties, Penny meets up with a high-ranking German officer, Rainer, injured during the invasion. He develops a fascination for her. Despite her attempts to avoid him, and the fact that they are on different sides, they meet up several times over the years.
Running alongside the story of Penny during the war is a tale of her return to Crete in the present day (2001), and her surprising discoveries when she gets there. This part involves her grand-niece, Lois, and Lois’s son, Alex. Lois is recovering from a broken marriage, and decides to take Aunt Penny back to Crete as a birthday treat, the timing coinciding with a sixtieth anniversary reunion on the island. The narrative jumps back and forward between the 1940s and 2001, which is a bit distracting.
In this novel, we see a different image of Crete from the idyllic island we are used to as modern-day tourists. As has been seen many times in history, we see the war causing devastation of the landscape and ancient sites. During the occupation of the island, there is also muchlooting of artefacts that were centuries old. We also learn of the strength and tenacity of the Cretan people under conditions of great hardship and oppression.
Although Penny and Yolanda both find the loves of their lives during the course of the narrative, it is more a tale of war and survival than a love story. The ending of the story is quite abrupt and unexpected. It would be nice to know what happened next.To get your copy of this novel click here