VILLAGE OF SECRETS by Caroline Moorhouse

War always brings tales of heroism, courage, defiance of the odds, and humanity. And as so often happens these stories often aren't fully revealed until years later, two to three generations later, when the participants themselves have passed on, and truths begin to emerge. So it is with this story. But as well as the truths, plenty of myths also surround this extraordinary and horrific period in modern history. Well known biographer Caroline Moorhead states at the beginning of the book that her intention is to try to put right some of the myths, sift the fact from the fiction, and address the 'fallibility of memory'. In the process she pulls together an enormous amount of research material and first hand accounts from some of the many children that were saved, and descendants of those who did the rescuing.  However it would seems that even she has also got the facts wrong. There are a number of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon from some of these people, none of them complimentary, disputing what she has written. All this, of course, makes a book such as this even more fascinating and intriguing to read.

During the period 1940-1944, Vichy France collaborated with the Nazis in the governance of what was essentially the southern half of France. It followed that the French police in this area were expected to carry out the orders of the Nazis to arrest dissedents, resistance fighters, Jews and anyone else seen as a threat or simply unwanted. The Haute-Loire is a region south of Lyons, so well and truly under Vichy France control. It is mountainous, very beautiful and scenic, lots of little villages and hamlets tucked in amongst the slopes, the hills, the plateaux, valleys and gullies. Before the war it was a tranquil holiday region, with many inns, pensions, and other accommodations. As it is now. Because of its geography and its isolation, this area during the war was the site of much resistance activity. The population of the area was essentially Protestant, a sect of the church that believed strongly in being pacifist, and helping out one's fellow man. Which is how the small towns and villages came to be places of refuge and hiding, as well as a transit point for thousands of people, mostly Jewish, and mostly children. The courage of these very ordinary farming families, small business owners, deeply spiritual and humble people in their defiance of the regime they found themselves living under is, in a word, awesome. And not without tragedy as the Nazis and French collaborators gradually tightened their net around the area.

There is so much to write about this whole shameful period in French history,  and the author, having been a human rights journalist, fills her narrative with many stories of what life was like in Vichy France during this time. Still, aside from the comments made by survivors and descendants, I am not entirely sure if she does succeed in telling the real story. There are so many people involved, and with the absolute necessity of a code of silence, there are bound to be myths and distortions of the truth occuring.  Nevertheless, this is yet another side of WWII that we don't know a great deal about, and is a story that should be told.



After reading this dark and chilling thriller, you will be deleting all those real estate agent contacts from your life, looking for ways to sell your house privately!  Real estate agents have never been Top of the Pops in most admired or trusted professions, and most of us have a shady story or two to tell about our dealings with them. But I bet none of us know an agent such as William Heming!

Mr Heming has been an agent in an attractive English town for many years. He is part of the local landscape, respected, well liked it would seem, does his job well, and leads an unremarkable average sort of life. But, how would you feel if you knew that he kept the key of every single house he had sold over the past twenty plus years, and had them displayed on a wall in his home? And that he used these keys to enter the homes of his clients, buyers and vendors alike, finding out every detail of their lives, their bank accounts, their families, their holidays, their pets? Mr Heming is that man.

So much does he love his neighbourhood and many of the people that live in it, he uses his knowledge and his expertise to actually protect and help many of them. He is decidedly creepy, but it is when he his behaviour begins to do more harm than good that things get really chilling. The undoing of Mr Heming's carefully built up veneer begins when a body is discovered by the swimming pool on the property of the Cooksons, who would clearly fill the shoes of nightmarish vendors to be dealing with. During the course of Mr Heming dealing with this situation, he tells us the story of how he came to be involved in real estate, his childhood, and his obsessive streak of curiosity that leads and saves him from so much trouble. He walks a very fine line, but from his story, as a lonely, neglected and misunderstood child, we see how the decidedly unhinged sociopathic Mr Heming evolved. You will like and dislike Mr Heming in equal amounts, which is what makes this book so enjoyable and fun to read - what will he do next, and how will that exactly pan out?

This is a creepy, blackly comic, chilling, macabre and bizarre story, and you will never walk past a real estate office, which incidentally are everywhere if you care to look hard enough, without the hairs on the back of your neck lifting ever so slightly.Would make a great movie, with someone like Kevin Spacey or James Spader in the title role.

THE PAPER TRAIL by Alexander Munro


It is highly unlikely that you are reading this review on a piece of paper held in your hand. And yet, it was the invention of paper that enabled mass communication and exchange of information quickly and effectively. Now we have the internet rapidly replacing the likes of the daily newpaper, but we must cast a thought back to where it all began.  First produced over 2000 years ago in China, paper very quickly replaced bamboo as a writing surface and from then on was unstoppable in its spread. Although, it was not till over 1000 years later that paper made its way in a westerly direction to what is now Iran, Iraq, then Turkey to Europe.

The movement and development of paper has been integral to the history of these regions over the last 2000 years. As a form of storing religious texts, whether they be Buddhist as in the early centuries of paper use in China, the Koran or the Bible; as a means of distributing religious messages amongst the populace as seen in the work of Martin Luther in the 1500s looking for an alternative to the Catholic church, or as fuel to the French Revolution in the late 18th century, paper has been at the centre of it all..

Even New Zealand's very own Treaty of Waitangi has two pages in this book devoted to it. Apparently the Treaty was a very rare type of document in British imperial history, in that it was a bilingual document - Maori and English - drawn up for both sides to sign. Which is what happened. Although as we now know, the two versions actually had two different meanings. However it is considered remarkable for its time, as it attempted to come to a political settlement without going to war. The author also points out that when the Treaty was signed in 1840, the Maori had only had maybe 20 years of exposure to the written word, their entire means of communicating and passing on history up to that time being oral in nature. Is it any wonder they are such marvellous story tellers?

This research undertaken for this book is enormous, and how much the author has put in is mind boggling. The author has studied Chinese and lived for a time in Beijing, so it is hardly surprising that half of this book is about the invention, development and spread of paper in China, Eastern and Central Asia - the first 1000 years.  I am not entirely sure how one makes 1000 years of paper making interesting and riveting, and at times I found myself nodding off. The seond 1000 years is easier to digest as it has much more relevance to history that we already know about. Nevertheless, I wouldn't say this book is an 'easy' read. The detail and minutiae of his subject is at times overwhelming, to the extent that I felt the thread of many of his stories was getting lost.

There has been a trend in recent years for non-fiction writers to undertake histories of items/inventions that have been crucial to the development of the world we know and live in, and write about it in a way that makes it accessible to the average reader. For example "E=mc2"  by David Bodanis takes Albert Einstein's famous equation and explains it in such a way the most unmathematical persons in the world could understand. This book is not on the same accessible level as the likes of "E=mc2".

My biggest criticism - the almost total lack of illustrations. In a book of 368 pages there are only seventeen illustrations. I don't understand how a book about paper and it's place in modern history can only have seventeen, low quality illustrations. There is whole chapter devoted to the Renaissance and the use of paper in the creation of some of the beautiful art works from that time. Any illustrations from this time? No. Any pictures of some of the beautifully and crafted Bibles of the Middle Ages? No. Or the copies of the Koran produced by the Islamic Caliphate? No. I kept wanting to see pictures of what the author was writing about. Disappointing for a book with so much research and information in it. 

But if you have the time and want to know where paper, the development of script, binding, typography, the printing press, the concept of reading,  the disbursement of knowledge sprang from, then you will get a lot out of reading this book.