Gifts of War
follows what happens to passionate English lieutenant, Hal Montgomery when he meets Wilhelm, a young German officer on the Christmas truce, the brief and unofficial cessation of hostilities that occurred on Christmas Eve between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front in 1914. Just months before he was recalled to Germany, Wilhelm had fallen in love with Sam, a school teacher from Stratford.
Wilhelm gives Hal a photo of himself in uniform,
along with a plea to make sure that Hal give it to Sam if he should survive. Soon after, Hal is injured. Cruelly damaged with a smashed pelvis and shattered prostrate gland, his injuries are a relief from the danger, the constant bombardment, the sight of so many bodies and the quantities of blood ďsluicing through the mud.Ē Considered a coldly wounded warrior, Hal is decommissioned, but his fluency in German and his Munich inspired sophistication lead him into a different kind of service as he seeks to reclaim some sense of British honor.
Halís boisterous sister, Izzy, helps him heal from the inevitable scars of what heís witnessed, but it is his unexpected romantic connection to Sam that enables him to finally conquer his battle-weary depression. A young woman of considerable presence, Samís movements match her beauty. Walking the towpaths and canals of Stratford, Hal never mentions Wilhelm. Concealing an inconvenient fact, Hal knows heís in love with Sam.
He doesnít want to do anything to sabotage this new and bourgeoning love, especially in a time of war.
Ford sets up some provocative scenarios in his novel. Hal embarks on a journey of deception even when he knows that Sam can never return his love. Not a man to be discouraged, Hal attempts to build a life with Sam and her young son - first in the bucolic town of Middle Hill, where Halís sexual longing is almost palpable,
and later in London, where he works as an analyst for the War Ministry, surveying intelligence dates from German newspapers.
While Sam, a single-mother, attempts to raise her son out of wedlock in a time of war, she must also barricade herself against the provocative judgments of those around her. Obviously broken and abandoned, Hal knows it is within his power to lift Samís spirits. Wilhelmís photograph, as it "burns a hole in his wallet and his conscience," is a way to help get her life back together. At first Sam is blindsided by Halís affections, but he gives her hope and a way to remove at least some of the dreadful coldness buried deep within her heart.
Fordís story unfolds with cinematic eloquence, the author's clear and precise prose contrasting the pace and pulse of London with the realities of Halís clandestine trip to Switzerland and the collateral damage from his forays into espionage and murder. For Hal, one false move could destroy everything and cost him his happiness. While his grim secret is in danger of dismantling the careful choreography of his life, the psychological, financial, and practical destruction of war reverberate most throughout this gorgeously written tale.
As German zeppelin raids decimate London, Ford posits a vast landscape filled with violence, longing and suffering. War's immorality is bound to Sam's promises of love and loyalty, just as Hugh barely escapes death, his body battered and bruised.
The bloodshed steadily takes its toll, dividing family against family and friend against friend. Hal, reluctant finally to face bitter truths about himself, pays a significant price for living among the shadows of his
massive and underhanded lie.