Carrie Beavers in Alameda Sun reviews The Lives of Alice Pothron by Jenny Harrison
As a child I had the good fortune to live overseas in Brussels and London. This was in the early ‘70s, and memory of World War II was very much alive. In London, particularly, visible evidence of the war was everywhere. As a result, when I returned to the U.S., I had a completely different appreciation of the war than my American classmates.
Evelyn Pothron, a long-time Alameda resident, also has a different view of World War II. In July I939, her parents Emile and Alice Pothron, naturalized American citizens, traveled to their native France for a much-needed six-week vacation. It would be four years before they would return to the United States with their daughter Evelyn.
In a harrowing, yet uplifting account, New Zealand author Jenny Harrison tells the story of the Pothrons’ ordeal; the separation of a family; life in a German prisoner of war camp and the unimaginable nightmare of living at the whim of occupying Nazi soldiers.
The majority of the story centers around Alice and Evelyn. As a result of an extraordinarily difficult childhood, health problems had left Alice in despair of ever having a child.
When it is discovered that Alice is expecting a miracle child, the family makes the fateful decision to remain in France until the baby is born. It is this decision that places the family in harm‘s way when the invading Nazi forces arrive at their doorstep. Emile, conscripted into the French military and subsequently captured, is unable to protect his family.
When circumstances become life threatening, Alice, who has been forced to feed and house a unit of Nazi soldiers, makes the courageous decision to escape to freedom, a journey that will endanger their lives many times. At the journey’s end is a miraculous reunion and return to the United States that will eventually bring the family to Alameda. The incredible strength that Alice shows in the face of such adversity is an inspiration for all of us.
This story held me in its thrall from beginning to end. When I had to put it down for those daily inconveniences like sleep and work, I thought about it. I spoke to friends and co-workers about it.
One afternoon, as I worked at my desk, a petite elegant woman came in to the office. I realized instantly that she was Evelyn, the tiny tot who had walked away from the Nazis.
If it hadn‘t been for her extraordinary mother, I would never have met this lovely, soft-spoken woman, and find out the rest of the story. The measures to which this mother went to save her family would eventually shorten her life.
Many years later, Evelyn’s retelling of her mother’s story to a fellow passenger on a cruise — author Jenny Harrison — led to this book.
Evelyn's wish for the book was to teach her grandchildren just how fortunate they are. That’s a wish I’d like to share with us all.
Congratulations, Jenny, on a well-deserved great review!