Book Review: Homeland by Clare Francis

1946. Billy Greer, recently demobbed, reluctantly returns to Crick Farm on the Somerset Levels after an absence of seven years. He finds the farm neglected, his uncle aged and his aunt bed-ridden from a stroke. Despite his eagerness to take up a job offer in London, he decides to restore the farm to order. However, he soon realises that his uncle will be unable to cope when he leaves and on the recommendation of the village doctor, he hires a Pole from the Middlezoy refugee camp to help work the withy farm.

Wladyslaw Malinowski, a veteran of the Battle of Monte Cassino, was a student of history and literature before abandoning his studies to join the Polish army. Now a member of the Polish Resettlement Corps, he is one of many Poles faced with the decision of whether to return to his homeland or remain in England once he has served the mandatory two years. His sister writes from Poland that there is nothing to fear in returning, but Wladyslaw is not so sure that a Poland under Russian rule is the place for him and there are rumours of imprisonment or death for those who do return.

Befriended by the village doctor and Stella, the local school teacher, Wladyslaw is determined to improve his English as the first step to being assimilated into the country he is planning to make his new home. When offered the job at Crick Farm he eagerly accepts. At first, due to the language barrier and Billy's taciturn nature, he finds living on the farm and the work challenging, but eventually he adjusts to both.

My overall impression of Homeland is one of bleakness. Not because it is set during one of the harshest winters that England ever experienced, but images evoked of the landscape and the people are, like the cover of the book, grey and sombre. The flooded Somerset Levels are cold and wet. The unharvested withies are rotting. The people are dispirited and growing resentful as they continue to deal with housing, job, fuel and food shortages, exacerbated by returning servicemen.

The Poles in the refugee camp also have problems. They are mistrusted by the locals, who do not understand their ways or their reluctance to return to Poland now that the war is over. When a local war hero, a veteran of the Burma campaign, is found dead, suspicion falls on a Pole from the camp with tragic consequences.

The historical content and the unusual setting drew me to this novel. The formation of the Polish Resettlement Corps and the plight of Polish refugees in post war Britain is not often the subject of novels. Nor is the growing of withies on the Somerset Levels, but the two combine to make this a very memorable read.

No comments:

Post a Comment