Title: The Girl Under the Olive Tree
Author: Leah Fleming
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: Dec 2012
Genre: Women’s Fiction; Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3.5/5
Penny has many memories kept locked up in her mind and heart, but when she is invited to go to Crete with her family, she is forced to once again remember a life of war, lived long ago.
I have to admit I mainly chose this book due to the author’s name beginning with an ‘f’ which I needed for my A-Z author challenge I am doing this year with a penpal group on Goodreads. I was also drawn to it as I find books, both fictional and non-fiction about either of the world wars, very interesting.
The book is written in two points of view; that of Penny’s who was a Red Cross nurse during the war, and later, the view of a German soldier who was sent to Greece. There is also a flicking between two time periods – the time of the war, and the time when Penny is remembering. To begin with this was very annoying as many of the ‘chapters’ of the present literally stated that Penny was remembering and therefore simply slowed the story down. However, in the second half of the book, the actions in the present are important to the discovery of the story, and give a greater understanding of the characters.
Personally I enjoyed having the two conflicting points of view, and seeing how the two main characters are linked with one another, even though they are on opposing sides. It is not a love story, though feels as though it could have been and the attraction between the two characters are played on a lot throughout the story.
Of course, when writing about any time in history, it can be difficult with hindsight, especially regarding the opinions of the main characters. There was a strong Jewish community in Crete which also played a main part in the story; however I feel the author has succeeded in not showing bias beyond the character’s own actions, which I was grateful for. Obviously the holocaust was horrific, but it can be easy to forget that the individuals all had their own reasons and motivations for their actions, regardless which side they fought on.
The Girl Under the Olive Tree is fictional, but it is clear the author has done her research and has created a cast of supporting characters that each have their own story; to the point of the reader wanting to know more about each of them. I felt the book ended in a slightly strange way, almost as if there were to be a sequel. Part of me enjoys this open ending as it leaves it up to the reader to decide what they think happens next, though this kind of ending didn’t quite fit with the style of the rest of the story in my opinion.
Overall I enjoyed the story, though felt the second half of the book was written much better than the first half which is a shame as I feel a lot of people will likely give up before the story truly comes into its own because of the trudging speed of the narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Second World War, especially how it affected individuals in a German-occupied country, or those specifically interested in the history of Crete.