Author: Jane MacKenzie
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 5/5 stars
I received this book from the publisher, Allison and Busby, in exchange for an honest review. This in no way effects my opinion of the book.
Tapestry of War is a breakthrough story of love and friendship in WWII by Jane MacKenzie. The book is based on the real events that her family witnessed during the war but is still entirely a fiction. The story follows two female MCs, Fran and Catriona who though both from different backgrounds and separated by miles of ocean, are draw together through friendship and love. It is an entirely charming and utterly beautiful book.
The setting is diverse and interesting. Fran living in Alexandria, Egypt and working for a newspaper there whilst Catriona is a nurse living in rural Scotland. Both settings are described beautifully and it’s easy to envision yourself there alongside these remarkable characters. I felt a wonderful connection with Fran and Catriona as well as other characters in the book, for example Catriona’s brother Jim and the mysterious Duncan. Each and every character has so much depth and reality that it’s impossible not to connect in some way with them all. Even the most fleeting of background characters has an impacting background.
I truly haven’t enjoyed a book as much as I have this one for such a long time. I wanted to savour every moment but also I needed to know what would happen next and what was in store for my favourite characters. The book created questions in mind constantly and even when I wasn’t reading it was on my mind. I truly couldn’t recommend this one enough. It couldn’t be a more perfect story.
In addition to getting the chance to read this marvellous book early, I was also lucky enough to get to interview Jane MacKenzie herself! Please continue below to read her responses to the questions that burned in my mind after finishing this wonderful book!
Q1) The novel is inspired by your family and their experiences during WWII. Is there anyone in particular you based Fran and Catriona on?
During World War Two my parents-in-law met in Egypt, where he was serving as a naval officer, and she was a member of the privileged British community in Alexandria. Their story fascinated me. Imagine what it must have been like for a woman brought up in a glamorous world of servants and cocktails to give that up to move after the war to become a teacher’s wife in the Highlands of Scotland. The village she came to didn’t even have electricity at the time. By all accounts she was a wonderful woman and made a great life here despite the weather and the midges!
But I didn’t want to write her story. I wanted to write my own story. And this was made easier because I never met my parents-in-law, who died relatively young. So Fran is her own person, it’s just the world she moved in I wanted to capture, and the inevitable challenges facing a relationship between two people from such different backgrounds.
And Catriona? Well Catriona represents to me the best of Highland women, patient, enduring, with a fine mind and true community spirit. She isn’t any one person, but she is a true girl from Islay.
Q2) What was the inspiration for setting the novel in Alexandria and Islay in particular?
Alexandria was such an important strategic base during the war, in the battle for the Mediterranean. It has also been also a major trading centre throughout history, so was a melting pot of cultures, Arab, Jewish, Levantine, Greek, French, Italian, British. That makes such a rich setting for a novel. I have lived and worked for much of my life in the Arab world, and know Egypt and Alexandria, so the family links to the city fell in very well.
And in Scotland I wanted my people to be from the Highlands, to have that wonderful culture, and I loved the idea of making Catriona’s father a whisky distiller from Islay! Islay is such a beautiful island and has true heart. Who could resist it?
Q3) My grandparents were respectively a soldier and a nurse during WWII, I could see a glimpse of what that was like for them in the characters of Jim MacNeil and Catriona MacNeil. Was it your intention to make your characters reflective for readers?
I have a very reflective style of writing, I think. I love to write about ordinary people living through extraordinary times. It so often brings out something very special in them, and I’m sure this was true of your grandparents. It’s such a pleasure to explore characters and how it must have felt to be them, just then, at a time of so much upheaval and trial. And I love the fact that people retained so much humour, and the way they bonded together.
Q4) I have to ask, will we be seeing more of these characters in the future or is the book strictly standalone?
This is a stand-alone book. I’ve written a trilogy before, but this time I think the end of the war is the natural end of the story, and I’m happy to let my characters head into their futures without me. You can picture their futures, happy and settled, and that’s just how I want to leave them.
Q5) You can really see the research you’ve put into this novel. As a history undergraduate student I can really appreciate this. Is history something you enjoy usually?
I absolutely love history, especially the period of history we can almost touch, lived by our grandparents and even our parents. In the 20th century lives changed more than at any other time in history, and you don’t have to go far back to be in quite a different world. My mother always talked to me a lot about the war and about life when she was a child, and I found her stories fascinating. Since I started writing the war has crept more and more into my life, and I can honestly say that I am now quite an expert.
The challenge then is to write a book about people, and not to let the research you’ve taken so long over hijack your story. I hope that Tapestry of War is a really human story, and that what shines out of it is the love, hope and courage of all the people touched by the war.