The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan – a book review
Listening to this book on Audible, the saga of the Martels kept me immersed for days on end. With each war story, I am freshly aghast with the horrors those innocent civilians caught between two warring countries faced.
In March 1944, as Stalin’s forces push into Ukraine, young Emil and Adeline Martel must make a terrible decision. Do they wait for the Soviet intrusion and risk being sent to Siberia? Or do they follow the Nazi officers, who have pledged to protect “pure-blood” Germans?
Adeline’s father was dragged out of the farm one night, never to be heard from again. Hence, they do not have much choice.
The Martels are one of many families of German heritage whose ancestors have farmed in Ukraine for over a century. Emil and Adeline know no other life than hard work. But after already living under Stalin’s horrifying regime, Emil and Adeline decide they must retreat from their land in search of a hopefully greener valley as far west as possible.
They set out the Martels ( Emil, Adeline, two sons, his parents, and sister). Accompanied by Adeline mother and sister, who is not all fine.
In the course of their escape, one can only think of the adage, caught between a rock and a hard place.
They have to give up their belongings, and their horses, be set on foot for days to end, travel by crowded train compartments, stripped naked, wear the clothes of the dead Jews and live in the houses in Poland where the Jews once lived and loved and live on terrible rationing.
When the Allies close in, Emil is taken away from his family for a year and more of hard labour rebuilding the cities while disposing of bodies. His love for Adeline keeps him alive, and this story is one of sheer grit, resolve, and determination of two loving people to ensure that their sons live a life of comfort.
Are they successful? The book leaves you with hope despite their struggle. The rare friendship that develops between Adeline and a Jew woman, Emil being helped by another prisoner, the deep love and respect the Martels have for each other, and the fantastic boys they bring into the world all make the book deeply satisfying.
My only nit was the jarring tone the boys sported when they called out to their mom, even when escaping. If I had read the book, I would have toned down their voice in my mind!
4.5 out of 5