Morpurgo is a master storyteller and never better than when he is telling a story based on real inidents – as he does here. Taking the voice of his uncle, Francis Camaerts, he looks back on his role in World War II. It is his 90th birthday, the memories are rich difficult and emotional both for the narrator and the reader. The tone is familiar, slightly rambling, direct, full of reflection – and yes incident, real-life incident. Francis had entered the war as a pacifist; the death of his brother, Pieter, combined with witnessing a random bomb tragedy persuaded him to join up. He entered France as an undercover agent, (the Camaerts were a Belgian family so speaking French was his great asset). We meet fellow Resistance fighters; he reflects on the conflicting and complicated attitudes to the war – the destruction war causes not just to life but to relationships and communities.
As the war recedes in time, this is very much the sort of memoir needed to work alongside the many action packed WWII adventures that fill the shelves. The illustrations by Barroux capture the under cover world of waiting, of tension and shadowy existence to perfection. It is in a sense ageless, though the design suggests a younger audience. It needs to be read aloud – or even performed like The Mozart Question. A story to remember.