When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea was a fascinating look into a little known chapter of World War II history. The Channel Islands, owned by England but located very close to the French coast, were to be the launching pad for Hitler's invasion of England. Instead the Islands and their inhabitants endured years of occupation and deprivation.
Ms. Leas does such a wonderful job of creating not only the atmosphere of the time and place but the culture as well. For example, early in the book a resident of the Islands is explaining to an English immigrant the relationship between Island and Country. The character Edith explains, "It's like this you see: when William of Normandy took England for his own, we were part of Normandy. Part of the conquering army, if you like. Which means that we don't belong too England - England belongs to us. Our oldest possession, she is." Just that quote explains the complicated relationship between England and the Islands. England thinks they own the Islands and the Islands let them think that and continue to do whatever they want.
That independent spirit is a strong theme in the book.England abandoned the Islands supposedly to protect the civilian population. To the Islanders, England abandon them. They knew they would have to survive on their own without any help from anyone. The characters in the book all reflect that theme. The Islanders dig in their heels and work to survive. The German occupiers try to control a population defines passive-aggressive. The long Englishman in the book is precariously balanced between fear of the Germans sending him to a camp in Germany and trying to help the population who general distrust outsiders.
There are good Islanders as well as bad ones. Also good Germans as well as the brutal Nazis. And there are many in between. Part of the charm of this book is that it was not predictable, did not end as I thought and managed to break my heart several times.
If you have seen the BBC production of "Islands at War", be aware that is a very different picture than When the Sky Fell Apart. The book is probably a more accurate picture of how the civilians suffered during the occupation but did not break. I reccomend When the Sky Fell Apart with 4 out of 5 Stars.
Thank you to NetGalley for a copy in exchange for a fair review.