The Hunt for David Berman
This gripping thriller set during the early part of World War 2 is Claire Mulligan’s debut novel.
Eleven year old Robert, like many other children, has been evacuated and he’s now living with his grandparents on their farm on the coast of Scotland and missing his parents greatly. His father is fighting and his mother is serving in the WRENS. The boy finds it difficult to adjust to rural life after living in London but he’s keen to use the torch his Dad gave him before he left, suggesting he use it to explore the nearby caves: maybe he’ll even find that treasure his grandfather mentioned.
What he finds however, when he enters one of the caves near Tor Head Farm, is a boy who introduces himself as David. David is a Kindertransport child who has taken refuge in the cave after running away from the cruel farmer that he’d been sent to stay with. Now terrified that he’ll be recaptured and returned to Germany and the Nazi regime, the boy is trying to survive alone.
David has unknowingly carried from Germany in the lining of his suitcase something important. That secret something is an Enigma codebook that is likely to get him killed, for a Nazi secret agent sent to retrieve it is now hunting for him.
Robert feels somewhat conflicted however: Germans are the enemy surely, the people his father is fighting, so can he trust this boy? He provides him with basic necessities – food and warm blankets – while endeavouring to keep David a secret from his grandparents. The lives of the two boys become increasingly entwined and dangerous as little by little the trust between them builds, a friendship grows, and they discover that they have more in common that they first thought and are braver than they ever imagined they could be.
With parts set in the Gestapo HQ, this is a tremendously thrilling, powerfully moving story, rich in detail, exemplifying the incredible courage and resilience of people, children included, during the Second World War. Claire Mulligan has created two superb characters in Robert and David, around whom her superbly crafted tale is constructed. Now, as we witness through the media every day children fleeing from war in Ukraine, her book has an added poignancy.