Being from the U.S., I was moderately aware of POW and Internment camps here in the States. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to such camps in England during WWII, but of course there were. This book examines one such camp, meant to detain Germans and German sympathizers during the war. Unfortunately, camps such as this – which are often quickly assembled – suffer from some political turmoil and lack of proper oversight and in too many cases Jews who fled Germany (for obvious reasons) were detained in British internment camps because, on paper, they were German Nationals and therefore potentially sympathizers. In worst case scenarios, they could potentially be sent back to Germany.
Just as the United States held those of Japanese descent (and Germans) in camps without regard to their actual leanings, the British over-compensated here, rounding up everyone and then addressed specific cases. The Island of Extraordinary Captives by Simon Parkin examines a few specific internees.
Even the artists (I use the term broadly) interned were numerous enough that it might be nearly impossible to really examine each of them and Parkin focuses on just a few, with Peter Fleischmann being the prime focus. Fleishmann was an orphaned teenager when he escaped Germany and was perhaps one of the most un-lucky young men on the planet as was threatened by the Germans and imprisoned by the British, Yet despite everything that befell him, he had he survivor’s instinct and the determination to follow through on his artistic desires despite everything.
The book is definitely informative, but it does suffer from being a bit wandering in the narrative. I was never quite sure if this was intended to be a history book of the event, or more of a look at some of the individuals. It could be a combination of these, of course, but frankly, because it doesn’t really seem to know the narrative tends to fall a bit flat.
I really wanted to like this more than I did. I find that non-fiction tends to be of more interest to me as I get older, and anything that discusses art and artists will always appeal to me, but this failed to find a way to really capture and hold my interest.
Looking for a good book? From an historical point of view, The Island of Extraordinary Captives by Simon Parkin offers some good insight, but the narrative is disjointed and rambling and not a particularly engaging read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp
author: Simon Parkin
hardcover, 432 pages