Postcards from No Man's Land

Carnegie Medal 1999

Michael Printz Award, U.S.A. 2003     

Summaries from reviews:

Horn Book starred review, July-August 2002:    

"Known for his criticism and his commentary on the state of children's literature, Aidan Chambers has also been highly regarded for the nerve and wit with which his young adult novels are composed. Chambers plays with narrative conventions, often using the shapeliness of innovative prose forms to stand in for the allure of romance. With the Carnegie Medal-winner Postcards from No Man's Land, he takes his concerns several steps further and produces a truly memorable novel: teens may remember not only that they read it, but also where and when they read it. The story unfolds in two tellings. Seventeen-year-old Jacob Todd has gone to Amsterdam as an emissary of his grandmother, to visit the survivors among the Dutch family that had given succor to Jacob's grandfather during the Allied invasion to liberate the Netherlands. Jacob is adrift and uncertain: he is sexually ambivalent, wordy and moody and kind, and, like most teens, self-absorbed. As he finds his footing, his friends, and his family in Amsterdam, his story is intercepted by one of the most gripping World War II narratives to make its way into the pages of a young adult novel. The young Geertrui, a maiden in the town of Oosterbeek, helps rescue and then conceal an English soldier who is wounded in the campaign. They fall in love, and their passion and their suffering are recounted without cynicism or sentimentality, making their romance one of the most striking in my reading experience. The contemporary Jacob, hearing the story in bits and pieces, begins to recognize glimpses of himself - not just in his grandfather and grandmother and Geertrui, but in the various companions and lovers he stumbles upon, in the words of Ben Jonson's poetry, and in a painting by Rembrandt. He pieces together a sense of self out of snips and bits; in short, he accepts that a confusion of moral choices is a necessary and indeed tolerable condition of existence. Terminally-ill Geertrui prepares herself for assisted death; Jacob considers sexual experimentation and love; the reader closes the novel resolved not to prettify human choices, nor simplify them, but to honor the difficulty and commitment of making one's life one's life. This novel is a career capstone, the effort of a mature novelist devoting his full attention and full respect to his readers, and it works." Gregory Maguire.

'Two craftily interwoven stories, separated by 50 years in time, make up this emotionally and intellectually challenging novel. Set in Holland, one story tells of the passionate love between a young Dutch woman [Geertrui Wesseling] and Jacob Todd, a wounded English soldier: "I filled the glass and gave it to the soldier who had not yet spoken, who now said, 'Thanks, miss, you're an angel of mercy.' He had eyes that made me melt."

The other story finds the English soldier's grandson visiting Amsterdam for the commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem. Before he knows it, he's way out of his emotional depth: 'His arrival yesterday had been embarrassing. His visit to the Anne Frank house had been upsetting. His confusion of a boy for a girl unnerved him. The mugging had left him duff.' The learning curve is steep and readers can't help becoming thoroughly engrossed in the powerful emotions as well as being confronted with questions which simply don't have easy answers. This is a riveting, thought-provoking and thoroughly worthwhile read.' Tamsin Palmer

The English and Media Magazine.

'The author makes us work at this text. Jacob's insecurity and confusion at the beginning are reflected in the reader's own. Nothing is spelled out. One has to read closely to decipher what is going on. Insignificant remarks become significant later. Incidents which initially seem irrelevant reveal their importance as the book advances. Even the title holds its secret until the end of the book. The plot not only provides two storylines carefully interwoven, but also ties in significantly with Anne Frank's diary, causing the reader to want to reacquaint with this work, particularly the more recent edition. […]

By the end of the story Jacob has moved on emotionally, and is given adult responsibilities by the Dutch family that only he can deal with. There is a lot for Jacob - and the reader - to think about, as concerns such as euthanasia, homosexuality, emerging sexuality, true love and friendship between old and young, war and history are all considered. This is a rich book, warmly and intelligently written by an author who evidently also loves Amsterdam, describing it vividly and affectionately.' Marilyn Brocklehurst

Kirkus Reviews, 15 April 2002

"*Chambers's Carnegie Medal-winning work is a rich, complex story that tackles big themes: time, death, happiness, love, sex, war, and the meaning of life. It covers much ground, from WWII to the present, from Anne Frank to Ben Jonson to Rembrandt and his son Titus. Jacob realizes that finding his place in the world involves understanding the past, observing life with complete attention, and holding onto ideals. 'You have to know your own truth and stick to it. And never despair. Never give up. There's always hope.' This is a wide-ranging, challenging, beautifully written novel for older teenagers and adults who love to settle into a big, rewarding story."


"*STAR*…part thrilling WWII love story and part edgy, contemporary, coming-of-age fiction…Chambers weaves together past and present with enough plot, characters, and ideas for several YA books, but he does it with such mastery that all the pieces finally come together, imparting compelling discoveries about love, courage, family, and sexual identity. Common to all the stories is the heroism of ordinary people…Jacob finds no neat answers, just a sense of the rich and painful confusion of what it means to be human." [Hazel Rochman]

Publishers Weekly, 29 April, 2002:

"* Sophisticated teenage readers yearning for a wider view of life may find themselves intoxicated by this Carnegie Medal-winning novel…Jam-packed with ideas and filled with passionate characters…Along with literature, art and love, topics dealt with here include euthanasia, adultery and bisexuality. These issues never become problems to be solved; rather they are part of the story's texture, neither more nor less significant than the precarious joy of investigating a new city and a foreign culture. No tidy endings here - the concluding scenes present Jacob with a complicated moral dilemma that remains unresolved. The implied challenges of the future make the final pages all the more satisfying: it's clear that Jacob can not only cope with ambiguity but can employ it to enlarge himself on the voyage of self-discovery he has so auspiciously begun."

A note about The Dance Sequence - click here.


Stockport School Book K4 Award

2000 Andersen Award, Italy 2001

JHunt Young Adult Literature Award (USA) for 2002

Buy On-line

First published by Bodley Head 1999

Definitions paperback Postcards from No Man's Land, January 2007, ISBN 978-1-862-30284-6, £6.99

U.S.A. edition, published 24 May 2002, by Dutton, hardback, 312pp, $19.99, ISBN 0-525-46863-3

All contents are ©Aidan Chambers unless otherwise stated.


'What a need we humans have for confession. To a priest, to a friend, to a psychoanalyst, to a relative, to an enemy, even to a torturer when there is no one else, it doesn't matter so long as we speak out what moves within us. Even the most secretive of us do it, if no more than writing in a private diary. And I have often thought as I read stories and novels and poems, especially poems, that they are no more than the authors' confessions transformed by their art into something that confesses for us all. Indeed, looking back on my lifelong passion for reading, the one activity that has kept me going and given me the only lasting pleasure, I think this is the reason that explains why it means so much to me. The books, the authors who mean the most are those who speak to me and speak for me all those things about life I most need to hear as the confession of myself.'

Geertrui Wesseling in Postcards from No Man's Land


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