Waiting for Anya
This month Egmont publishes Michael Morpurgo’s superbly plotted, totally gripping story Waiting for Anya with a film tie-in cover.
It’s set in France, in the mountain village of Lescun during World War 11.
A twelve year old shepherd boy, Jo whose father is a prisoner of war, is alerted by Rouf, his dog, to the presence of a bear. Now wide-awake, Jo dashes to warn the other villagers and the creature is hunted down and killed.
In search of Rouf, Jo returns to where he saw the bear;he encounters a man whom he discovers is reclusive Widow Horcarda’s son-in-law, Benjamin and that he’s in hiding.
Watching him through the widow’s home window, Jo recalls that he’s seen the man the previous summer holding tightly to the hand of a little girl.
He then learns that Benjamin has become separated from his daughter, Anya and that he believes that eventually they will be reunited.
As a trust grows between the widow and her son-in-law, and Jo, it’s revealed that Benjamin is Jewish and while he waits for that hoped for re-union, he is involved in a dangerous mission – leading other Jewish children away from the Nazis over the mountains, across the border to safety in Spain.
Jo is determined to help and starts bringing supplies to Benjamin’s hideout.
But then war makes itself well and truly felt in Lescun with the arrival of Nazi soldiers in the village: their eyes and ears are everywhere, and it’s announced that anyone helping fugitives will be shot. A curfew is imposed.
Jo is surprised to learn that not all the German soldiers are totally evil when he develops an unlikely friendship with a German Corporal through their shared interest in bird-watching.
Then despite the dire warnings the villagers plan to help another group of twelve children hidden away in a cave.
Just one slight slip up and lives will be lost …
There certainly isn’t a happy ever after ending to this tale; it’s tense, not everything goes well and there is one poignant final surprise. What for me resonates especially though, is the way the author shows the French villagers living alongside the Germans, not all of whom are bad. In the final pages we’re told, Jo ‘had come at last to see him (the Corporal) as a man in the uniform of the enemy, a good and kindly man … but nonetheless an enemy too’ – a ‘confusion he did not wish to confront.’