Sunday 18 May 2014

The Secret Purposes

Finished May 18
The Secret Purposes by David Baddiel

This novel is set in Konigsberg, Cambridge, the Isle of Man, and Auschwitz, most of it during World War II. The main story follows Isaac Fabian, son of a rabbi, who rejects his religion and becomes a communist while at university. He also marries outside his religion, to Lulu, a woman he meets at university.
As Hitler's persecution of Jews grows more blatant, Isaac and Luly emigrate to Britain, on their way to their final destination of America.
While living in Cambridge, working menial jobs to get by, the British government begins rounding up Germans, including Jews, and interns them on the Isle of Man. Lulu manages to escape this fate, but Isaac does not and the two are separated even more than the couples where both are interned.
While Lulu struggles to make ends meet and look after their daughter Rebecca, she also looks for ways to work towards Isaac's release. Isaac, meanwhile, adjusts to his life in restricted quarters, angry at the lack of understanding of a government that would round up Jews as suspects of possible German espionage.
June Murray, a translator at the Ministry of Information is also struggling with the government's view of Jews, and makes it her mission to find the proof she knows exists of the terrible suffering that the Jewish people have undergone by the Germans. Her unauthorized trip to the internment camps brings her in contact with Isaac and makes her more personally involved than she intended.
Again with an historical novel, I learned much I didn't know about historical actions. While I knew there were internments, I hadn't realized that the British interned German Jews as well. Some were living in poverty like Isaac, but the experiences varied widely, and some were working in their fields and well respected before their internment. There is much to ponder in this novel, from the nature of ethnicity and culture, to the outcomes of fear during wartime, to individual human behaviours and motivations. This is an intense book, that looks at an experience seldom talked about.


  1. You know this is my bag, I really seem to draw towards this kind of book. Thanks.

  2. This sounds really good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!