01 July 2011

Vinnie’s War

by David McRobbie

Allen and Unwin. Australian, Children’s Fiction. Paperback RRP $15.99

Guest Reviewer - Anastasia Gonis

Hitler’s first air raid hits London just as children are being sent away to the country as public evacuees. Vinnie is amongst them. Or

phaned at 11 years old, he was allocated by welfare to a sterile and emotionless home environment. Vinnie secretly worked at the local pub. Befriended by the pub owners and Isaac, a Jewish refugee, he got a taste of the laughter and warmth that had been missing from his life. He learnt about music and it became an integral part of his life. But those temporary joys ended with his evacuation.

Vinnie, siblings Kathleen and Joey, and Dobbs, all travel, arrive and stay close at Netterfold where they are billeted out to families. Vinnie goes to the ageing but aristocratic Miss Armstrong who initially remains unseen. But he is content to be enveloped in the kindness and caring of the housekeeper.
Vinnie is always warring with someone or something in his search for a place to belong. In Netterfold he finds himself in a more confronting war than the one he’d escaped. This war is declared by the town’s children who see the evacuees as usurpers to their established way of life. They bully and ridicule the newcomers who also have to cope with separation from family, home, and everything dear and familiar.

Rationing becomes everyone’s way of life. Others find rorting the system and using children to their advantage, another alternative to surviving the austere measures enforced by the war effort. But Vinnie’s life is transformed when Miss Armstrong turns out to be more than he had dared hope. As the war ends, he realises that he is not who he was, that he has found his place in the world.

The ‘Afterward’ allows the reader into the writer’s life as a child during the war years. These experiences were the starting block for this book; a book about displacement and separation, about war and its casualties which were more than the wounded. It is a book about strength and courage; about compromise and community.

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