Ashes is a raw and moving story which illustrates just how powerful the bond of friendship between two people can be, as well as the adversity that can be overcome through having those we love close to us and despite the troubling times in which it’s set, de Vinck still infuses the tale with strength and dreams of one day again living in freedom once again. It's a heart-wrenching tale of hope, survival and friendship during World War Two by an award-winning essayist and is inspired by the author’s true and touching family history. It's July 1939 in Belgium, a mere few months before the start of the war, and Simone Lyon, the daughter of prominent and well regarded Major General Joseph Lyon, is inseparable from her close friend Hava Daniels, who hails from a devout Jewish family. When the war breaks out and the Germans begin their invasion of Belgium, both Simone and Hava devastatingly find themselves separated from their families and must rely on each other for support. When the Nazis start rounding up Jews, Hava is one of the unlucky ones and is taken away with very little idea of what awaits her. Simone vows to find her once the war is over. But will they ever be reunited?
Historical fiction set against the harsh and harrowing backdrop of WWII has really taken over the genre of late, however, what particularly drew me to Ashes was the fact that it revolves around a seemingly unbreakable friendship and platonic love rather than a relationship as in most of the others stories. It still tugs at the heartstrings just as much and I found myself moved almost to tears on some occasions and laughing out loud on others. You are taken on an emotional rollercoaster of ups and downs, peaks and troughs as you follow the meanderings and trials and tribulations they come face to face with. The two girls’ lives are brought vividly to life and you can't help but have your heart warmed by their enduring friendship. Set out in short chapters there are little sound bites, or epigraphs, from history at the beginning of each one which immerses you into the compassionate tale right from the start. The descriptions of incidents where they had to escape and evade the Nazi regime were terrifying even for me as merely a reader. It's clear extensive research has informed this narrative and the author has captured the zeitgeist of the time perfectly. Many thanks to Harper Inspire for an ARC.