t is said that evil prevails when good men do nothing. For good men, also read good women, for in Libby Cone’s novel of wartime Jersey, War on the Margins (Duckworth, £12.99), it’s the covert petticoat brigade who most rile the occupying Nazis.
Starting life as Cone’s strictly academic MA thesis, this blossomed into a hardback gem of Jewish resistance, chilling, charming and interspersed with authentic papers and broadcasts of the time. Here is Jersey not as millionaire tax haven, but characterised by labour camps, informers, precious parsnip tea and a swastika flying over Fort Regent. Plain, single, nervy Marlene Zimmer is the improbable heroine, a very ordinary clerk at the island’s aliens office. She keeps herself — and her late father’s ethnicity — to herself, though German orders oblige her to register others — friends and neighbours among them — as Jews.
Marlene may have no idea what her inherited kiddush cup betokens, but Jersey’s fate stirs her latent semitism. Fear forces her undercover, but outrage draws her close to other partisans, from whom she learns to dare, to share a lone root vegetable, to love and to be her bravest self.
“Suzanne” and “Lucille” are two bewigged bohemians who bring the best out of Marlene — and high praise to Libby Cone for exquisitely enshrining their genuine wartime contribution. In real Channel Island history, they were Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Jewish lesbian lovers and artists who together defied the Germans, chalking on walls Churchill’s ubiquitous V for victory.
Their tireless propaganda prompted soldiers to desert, so landing the colourful pair in Nazi cells, under sentence of death. Libby Cone breathes life into the poetic exploits of these “surrealist sisters” and into the transformation of Marlene — a victory V in itself.
Causes Libby Cone Supports
Doctors Without Borders
Americans for Peace Now