Do you know the story of the Miracle of Dunkirk? I first heard of it when researching for a post-WWII novel I wrote for a competition. Soundly routed by the German army, the British Expeditionary Force was pushed out of Belgium and Northern France. The ended up pinned down on the Beach of Dunkirk. Only the English Channel separated them from home but it seemed an insurmountable barrier. The effort to get the soldiers back to British soil is known known as the largest evacuation in military history, and it was largely made possible by the mobilization of civilian boats, many of them manned by their civilian owners.
After seeing the new movie Dunkirk, I decided to see if I could find any novels built around the extraordinary story. There are surprisingly few! But I did find Maggie Bright: A Novel of Dunkirk, by Tracy Groot. It was exciting that one of the only novels about the Miracle of Dunkirk came from a Christian publishing company (and my library had a copy)!
General Thoughts About Maggie Bright
It took me a while to adjust to the style of this book. The characters are energetic and quirky and, as a result, the atmosphere of the novel is much brighter than most WWII stories. After I got oriented and knew who the characters were, where they were, and what they were pursuing, I really enjoyed the spunk of the book. (The style of Maggie Bright reminded me of the writing voice of A Fool and His Monet.)
A few things stood out to me…
- One of the characters seemed to have some kind of mental health disorder. I’m no expert, but my best guess is ADHD. He’s an endearing character who has trouble reining in his emotions and staying focused. I know a lot of readers look for books that include characters like this, so I figured it was worth mentioning. He might be my favorite character of the story.
- As a book from Tyndale House Publishers, a Christian publishing company, I kept waiting for more of a Christian message or theme … but it never really happened. I’m all for avoiding writing a preachy story, but I would have liked a little more boldness in the theme of this book.
- Maggie Bright is more character-driven than plot-driven. As such, you don’t get a ton of war details, tactical strategy, etc. If you want to experience the intensity of being trapped on a beach in France with Hitler’s troops closing in and all your hopes pegged on a flotilla of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, yachts, and lifeboats … watch the movie. You’ll get a taste of it from Maggie Bright, but you’ll get more of the characters.
- Much of the character motivation in this story stems from a realization of Hitler’s campaign to sterilize and euthanize people with disabilities. This aspect of Hitler’s eugenics program often gets overshadowed by the more publicized aspects of the Holocaust. In this story, characters are horrified and incensed when they discover evidence of the sterilization and death of a child with Downs Syndrome. Fighting for his memory and in determination to defend others like him motivates the characters to participate in the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Stories of WWII, both real and fictional, often make me think that this time period drew out extremes in people. Some of the most horrible things happened during these years but people responded to the horror with some of the greatest acts of courage you’ll ever hear of.
If you’re interested in the Miracle of Dunkirk and appreciate a character-driven story populated with distinctive characters, you’ll definitely enjoy Maggie Bright. If you have a Kindle or Kindle app, the ebook is only $0.99.
What is one of your favorite stories from WWII?