The emphasis is on day-to-day life rather than political concerns, but readers will get a good sense of how the Irish reacted to the unease of their surroundings. The atmosphere, tense and lean, feels hauntingly real, and undercurrents of deep emotion run beneath the surface.
The most poignant stories belong to outsiders. Oskar, a Luftwaffe airman whose job it was to light the way for the bombers, takes a dangerous leap from his plane and parachutes into a tree in the Hennessys' garden in rural Dunkerin in southern Ireland. He hopes somehow to find the Jewish girl he once loved, his former next-door neighbor, Elsa, who had been brought over to Ireland via the Kindertransport. At seventeen, she was just barely eligible.
Elsa ends up first in Belfast and then in Dublin, where a friendly Jewish family takes her in. They all try to lie low, but her piano-playing talent attracts the attention of Charlie, a medical student. Elsa's story is the most deeply felt of all. Nobody ever gets trained in how a refugee should act, and with her parents' fate unknown in Amsterdam, she forgets sometimes to be grateful for her rescue.
Back in Dunkerin, Kitty Hennessy discovers Oskar's presence around her house and yard and decides to hide him. She seems superficial, at first. Kitty doesn't think of him as the enemy; rather, she sees him as her ticket away from her boring, sheltered existence.
The plot carefully winds through all of their experiences, past and present, as Kitty pursues Oskar, Oskar tries to trace Elsa, and Elsa and Charlie find their way to one another. Each sees the war from a different perspective, and none of them is neutral at all. There is a wonderful epilogue of sorts, set in 1999, which not only wraps up their tales but brings the entire novel into clearer focus.
With its thoughtful language and skillfully developed characterizations, A Parachute in the Lime Tree gets The History Press Ireland's fiction list off to a promising start. It was published in March at £12.99 or €13.50 (trade paperback, 239pp). Find it on Goodreads here.