Book Review: Gardens of Stone by Stephen Grady
Gardens of Stone by Stephen Grady
This is a page-turning World War II memoir that tells the story of a teenage boy fighting for the French Resistance. Stephen Grady was only 14 years old when the German army began advancing into Northern France. His father was English and tended the war graves, his mother was French and battling blindness, and their own adventures in the First World War seemed a lifetime ago. At first the German occupation was only a lark to Stephen. He and his friend Marcel thought it was an adventure to collect souvenirs from crashed Messerschmitts and strafed convoys. But the lark ended when they were caught red-handed, arrested and imprisoned, with the very real possibility of facing the firing squad.
When Stephen was finally released, only 16, he was recruited by the French Resistance. He was later awarded the Croix de Guerre and the American Medal of Freedom for his work.
This is a compelling coming-of-age read. The first part of his memoirs captures his family life, with the conflicting mix of English and French sensibilities, and the high jinks of two teenage boys involved in some very risky activities, but without any real realisation of the risks or consequences. This all changes after Stephen Grady is imprisoned and then the story is one of courage and daring in fighting the Germans – although some of his experiences still haunt him today. This memoir vividly brings to life the drama of the French Resistance’s work in the rural areas through youthful eyes. Stephen Grady has done a wonderful job telling his story from his young self’s point of view (although the memoir opens as him as an 86-year-old living in Greece.) Fascinating.