The Boat Runner | Book Review


y648In the tradition of All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, comes an incandescent debut novel about a young Dutch man who comes of age during the perilousness of World War II.

Beginning in the summer of 1939, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem.

On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.

When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever.

Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.

+++ Image and blurb from HarperCollins website+++

3.75 Stars

A cleverly crafted WWII narrative that focuses on survival rather than heroics. The reader is forced to understand the unending loss and struggle that people endure during war and crisis, and how individual human voice and experience should not be lost to the greater politics.

Jacob’s lack of agency throughout much of the novel detracted from my emotional attachment to his tale, yet his grief was palpable. From this disconnect, I felt the progression of the plot was building up to a crescendo, as it never allowed me to find comfort in the narrative for nothing was safe from the destruction of war. The downside to this excellent distance and disquiet in the reader is that I often felt frustrated, as one act would not conclude by lead to more and more confrontation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the imagery of light, shadows, music and water – how they were woven throughout the novel and at key moments of Jacob’s development. It plays with the concepts of illumination heavily, as Jacob’s father is the owner and creator of a lightbulb factory – supplying lightbulbs to most of Europe. As the war forces blackouts and the Germans take control of the lightbulb factory, light is a strong metaphor for knowledge as many atrocities were hidden and kept secret.

Ultimately, it was a fascinating read that highlighted the human experience in war and the desperation of refugees.


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