The Sergeants' Tale
By Bernice Rubens
Charnwood Large Print, 2005
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - August 12, 2005
Bernice Rubens was a prolific Welsh writer and film maker. Born in 1928, Rubens passed away in 2004. During her long career, she wrote 25 novels, made numerous documentary films and won a range or prestigious awards both for her writing and her film-making. Many of her novels have Jewish themes, and the last book she wrote, The Sergeants' Tale was one such story.
The Sergeants' Tale is set in the turbulent days of the British Mandate rule of Palestine. While a work of fiction, at its heart it is grounded upon real events. In June of 1947, the British Court in Palestine ordered the execution of three young Jewish men who had been captured after an attack on the Acre prison that had been carried out for the purpose of forcing the release of numerous Jewish prisoners. They were executed in July of that year. In reprisal the Irgun tried two British Sergeants, Clifford Martin and Marvyn Paice, charging them with being spies. They were found guilty and executed by hanging. In turn the British killed five Jews in reprisal for the killing of Martin and Paice. It was but one of the many instances of attack and counterattacks carried out between the British and the various Jewish underground movements that challenged British rule in Palestine.
It is in this tumultuous period that Rubens set her final tale. This is a dark, aggressive story that examines the murky dividing line between freedom-fighter and terrorist. While historically based, this story is light on historical fact. The story is told from the vantage point of a young man recounting a family's stories about his grandfather. Some of the stories may be made out of whole cloth and some may have more than a grain of truth to them. It is for the reader, if they are so motivated, to determine how much of this story is factual and how much fiction.
The main figures in this story are Avram Wertman, a member of the militant Irgun and his daughter Hannah who works for the politically oriented Haganah. Their lives form an intersection with two British Sergeants, David Millar and Will Griffiths. Of the two, David is half-Jewish and he develops a relationship with Hannah that makes him question the role he is playing as a soldier and where his true allegiance lies. When David and Will, who are working for British intelligence, are captured by the Irgun, all involved will come to question their motivations and the methods by which they seek to reach their individual roles.
The Sergeants' Tale is an intriguing story that concentrates more on humanizing the characters than on historical facts or in promulgating a specific political agenda. This is a story about people, and how they deal with events and issues in their lives. It is about faith, friendship, and idealism. It is a story about life, and about death, and the ramifications of the choices that we make. The Sergeants' Tale is a short, yet poignant story that will provide ample fodder for retrospection long after you are finished reading the book. Rubens was an esteemed and talented writer, and The Sergeants' Tale is a fine example of her work.
Other books by Rubens, which are available in large print, include: Mother Russia, The Waiting Game, Milwaukee, and Nine Lives.
The Sergeants' Tale can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of Charnwood Large Print.
When I Lived in Modern Times, by Linda Grant.
When Evelyn Sert's mother died, shortly after the end of World War II, she moved from England to Palestine in order to have a new start at life. Although this story follows Evelyn throughout her life, a major portion of this intriguing book focuses on Evelyn's adventures in Palestine during the late 1940's. (Large Print)
The Brigade, by Howard Blum.
A compelling history of the Jewish Brigade that chronicles its formation, and the Brigades activities both during and after World War II. (Large Print)