The Flight of the Maidens

The Flight of the Maidens opens as three girls, eager to leave their English village, celebrate the arrival of their scholarship notices: "Una was off to Cambridge to read Physics and Hetty off to London to read Literature, and Liesolette, who had joined their sisterhood really seriously only today... was off to Cambridge, too, to read Modern Languages." The girls are poor. It is 1946; rationing is still in effect. Physical and emotional vestiges of two world wars are all about them.

Neverthless, the girls' vigor during their summer before school infuses Jane Gardam's (A Long Way from Verona) 24th book with optimism. Even enigmatic Liesolette, who arrived at her foster home in 1939 via the Kindertransport from Hamburg in Nazi Germany, is enthusiastic. Each chapter features one of the girls, their stories progressing independently amid townsfolk gossip. Hetty is on a solo holiday to the Lake region with a rucksack of books and a deep desire to escape her overbearing mother, while Una is focused on a bike trip with another longtime friend, a working man. A Jewish rehabilitation group whisks Liesolette to London, where her resilience sustains her as agencies seek any surviving relatives. Minor characters are richly portrayed. Hetty's father, the kind, "loopy" gravedigger whose World War I battles put him "always at the Somme"; Una's widowed mother, a jolly, self-taught hairdresser; the rich great-aunt who flies Liesolette to California to be her caregiver--any of them could carry novels of their own. Often hilarious, The Flight of the Maidens, originally published in 2001, is a well-crafted coming-of-age novel. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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