Author: Nicholas Shakespeare
Award winning author Nicholas Shakespeare takes us home with Priscilla.
Fascinated by this aunt that he remembers little about as a child – as a young boy he thought his aunt Priscilla had been in the French Resistance and had been tortured by the Germans – Shakespeare decides to research her. His findings remain astounding as Shakespeare delves into Priscilla’s survival during World War II – the story twists into a story of survival, determination, sustenance, and sometimes horrible sometimes amazing truths. For Priscilla has had to make decisions to survive something no human being should have to survive.
As the novel proceeds, Shakespeare takes the few mementos left behind and starts his research. In 1943, she is questioned by the Gestapo – and then let go. Perhaps because she was blonde with blue eyes, and English, perhaps because someone in high Reich places intervened, Priscilla was released.
When Nicholas Shakespeare knew his aunt, she lived on a mushroom farm on the Sussex coast of England with her famously difficult husband Raymond, who did not allow her out of his sight. Exotic and glamorous, in her forties, John Shakespeare found her fascinating. And yet weighed down by a certain sadness.
As Shakespeare continues his research, an intolerable life in the midst of the Third Reich reveals that Priscilla had a secret boyfriend named Hugo, a German who was very high up in the command. Other secrets reveal Priscilla’s assuming promiscuity, as she was as elegant of face as Grace Kelly. One by one Shakespeare tracks down clue after clue that reveals his aunt as a woman who not only survived but lived in apparent luxury during the war, due to her German male friends.
However, this is not a clear picture of Priscilla, as fragment after fragment comes onto the page of a woman both clever and beautiful who did whatever she had to do to survive this monstrous war. Shakespeare writes:
“’To be a hero is honorable; not to be one is not necessarily dishonorable.’ Wrote the Swiss historian Phillipe Burrin. At first glance I found it embarrassing to discover what Priscilla got up to. Of course, I wished for my aunt to be heroic. I wanted her to be a heroine…But she was not an exception, she was an ordinary woman in extraordinary times.”
Along with her friend Gillian, another beautiful woman who had been Priscilla’s friend during the war, Shakespeare tells a story both unbelievable and human – for Priscilla’s resourcefulness in staying alive is the story of all of us. Wonderfully written, exceptionally told, Priscilla is not a book you put down once you start it. With a background full of what happened in France and England during World War II, Shakespeare writes prose that makes the history of his story remind us of the horror of the times. And the insanity of acting sane.
Exceptional and eye-opening, breathtakingly written.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France is available on Amazon.com and booksellers nationwide