Very impressive. Parry has crafted insightful historical fiction from a period that I’ve read very little about; I learned so much even from the Author’s note at the end.
It is set in Germany in 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Three 13-year-old expat friends are disappointed when their music teacher has to cancel their trip to perform in a competition in Paris. But then they witness the attempted murder of a Soviet soldier by his comrades, and they devise an extraordinary plan to get him to safety, which (naturally) involves travelling to Paris and participating in the concert after all.
As historical fiction the plot is rather too extraordinary to be believed, but it weaves around people, places and events that are entirely real and gives you a sense of having experienced them yourself. You understand how transitional post-wall Berlin would have felt, as well as the cultural craziness of Paris from the perspective of street musicians, fine artists and the humble writers who camp at Shakespeare and Company.
There is much to talk about with young readers, from the attempted murder (due to the soldier’s reluctance to do something which could harm civilians and his reporting it to the allies), to when one should trust strangers and how to go about trying to do the right thing. The girls keep their dangerous adventure a secret from their parents because the soldier fears that if he is handed over, he will be sent back to his regiment who will attempt to kill him again. The girls also meet an unsavoury character at Shakespeare and Co – whom they send on his way in no uncertain terms. And after hearing the soldier talk of the brutality of Communism in his native Estonia, there is a softer view of the ideals of Socialism from the owner of Shakespeare and Co, though his motto “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” is actually a variation on a passage from the Bible.
Overall, however, there is a perfect balance between the unrealism of fiction (which takes reality that little bit further than it goes) and the truth and goodness of acting with the right intention, taking responsibility for one’s actions, rising to new challenges, doing one’s best to help oneself, being open to receiving help from good-hearted strangers and facing the consequences of keeping secrets from parents (especially when it involves being broadcast all over national television). I don’t expect many readers would take it all literally and try to do it themselves.
This story is short and uncomplicated but highly original, and entertaining enough to make you want to get through the whole thing in one sitting.