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A Pair of Silver Wings - James Holland

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

ALTHOUGH James Holland’s latest novel, A Pair of Silver Wings, is a work of fiction, the wartime parts of his story are based around real events, in particular The Siege of Malta and the Italian partisan activities that took place in the mountains south of Bologna.

Even his characters are inspired by real people, young men mostly, who lived, loved and died during the Second World War. Edward and Harry, for example, are the fictional reincarnations of two young fighter pilots who became great friends. Which is perhaps why Edward’s story is so compelling and so moving.

It’s a story that begins in 1995 when Britain is celebrating the 50th anniversary of VE Day. But for Edward Enderby, a 72 year old retired school teacher, it marks the beginning of a journey of self discovery and personal redemption – a journey that takes him first to Malta where, as a young fighter pilot, he witnessed scenes of unspeakable horror; and then to Italy where, in 1944, he joined the partisans in their fight for freedom. It was there too that the 22 year old Edward met and fell in love with Carla.

Holland undoubtedly has a flair for storytelling – he proved that with The Burning Blue – and his clever mix of fact and fiction is pure genius. That Edward is a product of imagination is immaterial. The fact is, there were young men just like him whose bravery and selflessness should never be forgotten. And if Edward serves as a reminder, then that’s fine by me.

Although the emphasis is understandably on wartime activities and includes action scenes that are hauntingly realistic, Holland’s perception of human behaviour is far wider reaching. Take Edward’s mother, for instance, a woman who, after complaining about the midges “would wildly whisk her arms around her head”. Something we’ve probably all done at one time or another but here it’s the word ‘whisk’ with its culinary connotation that I particularly like.

And finally and as a matter of interest, Holland based his Blue Brigade on the Stella Rossa, a partisan brigade that operated very successfully in the mountains south of Bologna during the spring and summer of 1944. Their leader was, however, known as Il Lupo and not La Volpe – The Wolf and The Fox.

A Pair of Silver Wings takes its title from a tin model of a Spitfire. The book is, however, a wonderful tribute to these remarkable planes and the courageous young men who flew them. It’s also an exceptionally good read.

Read The Burning Blue review