Three point five stars.
The Hidden Village is YA historical fiction set in Holland during World War II. It features the work of the Dutch resistance who hid people from the German army, primarily Jewish families. This story is about a group who created Berkenhout, a hidden village deep in the woods, which the Germans spent many years trying to find. Meanwhile the resistance secretly moved people, food and escaping allied pilots. To give added interest, it’s actually based on a true-life story, from the memories of the author’s mother.
The storyline represented many who risked their lives daily in the fight against the German occupation. It was hard to pick a favourite character; several were children, but I think Jan was portrayed well by the author. The cast of characters is large and interesting, and at times it was hard to keep them all in my head; I wondered if the story would have had more impact with less characters, but more time spent developing key people and the parts they played.
Despite constant raids by the Germans, this is not an action/suspense thriller but an examination of the conflicting emotions of the people forced to live in the village, their reluctance to do so, etc; Sofie worries that she might never be reunited with her family, for instance. It’s very much a ‘human interest’ story, with just a dash of intrigue; the head woodman, Henk Hauer, is under suspicion because of his meetings with the Germans. I would have liked a little more practical information about the construction of the village and how it was hidden, which confused me at first, though this becomes clearer later on.
This is an informative piece of work from an important time in history which highlights the bravery of the Dutch resistance, and shows what the time was like for those who suffered through it.
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Wartime Holland. Who can you trust?
Deep in the Veluwe woods lies a secret that frustrates the Germans. Convinced that Jews are hiding close by they can find no proof.
The secret is Berkenhout, a purpose-built village of huts sheltering dozens of persecuted people.
Young tearaway Jan roams the woods looking for adventure and fallen pilots. His dream comes true when he stumbles across an American airman, Donald C. McDonald. But keeping him hidden sets off a disastrous chain of events.
Sofie, a Jewish Dutch girl, struggles to adapt to living in Berkenhout, away from her family and friends. As weeks turn to months, she’s worried they’ll abandon her altogether. Henk Hauer, head woodman, is in charge of building the underground huts and ensuring the Berkenhout inhabitants stay safe. But many grow suspicious of his liaisons with the Germans. Is he passing on secret information that could endanger lives?
All it takes is one small fatal slip to change the course of all their lives for ever.
About the author
Imogen Matthews lives in Oxford, England, and is the author of two romantic fiction novels. The Hidden Village is her first foray into historical fiction and YA.
She was born in Holland to a Dutch mother and English father and moved to England when she was still baby.
Imogen has always enjoyed holidays in Holland and since 1990, has gone regularly with her husband and two children to Nunspeet on the edge of the Veluwe woods.
It was here she discovered the story of the hidden village and, together with her mother’s vivid stories of life in WW2 Holland, she was inspired to write her next novel.