The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews accompanied me through the last few weeks as I have transitioned my family to a new home. As an audiobook it resonated in my ears and heart while I packed, cleaned, and unpacked our family.
It really was a delightful and engaging story. That may seem like a strange description for a book all about nazi-occupied Holland. However, the nature and youthfulness of the characters throughout the story provided an innocence during a scary and intense period of their lives. The premise of the story being about a hidden underground hiding place (Berkenhout) for those needing refuge was a really interesting and exciting twist. It made this book very different than others I’ve read in the same time period. I cannot even imagine living underground, and many of the sentiments communicated by the characters seem to be just the tip of the iceberg about what life would be like in these extreme circumstances.
Matthew’s choice of having the main characters be teenagers and preteens gives the story of very different spin. I found several of the characters to be naive and their childhood innocence was foundational to how the story transpires. Giving this story a very unique perspective.
Without giving too much away the story it does become less predictable and intense in the end which definitely took me by surprise and kept me listening. There were characters I immediately took to and others like Sophie who grew on meme over time.
Liam Girard, the narrator, did a great job of pacing and intonation. He has an accent himself and it was definitely appropriate for several of the characters. His voice was also very believable across genders and I loved when he did utilize a German accent for others. Occasionally I found it challenging to decipher some of the Dutch characters simply because there was not a Dutch accent used and since that is the setting of the story occasionally I would have to backtrack to listen again. I will be honest and say this may not be entirely due to his narration, but to the fact that I was multitasking.
One reason I love historical fiction is because it teaches and brings me a better understanding of different time periods. This story was no exception. I have read some historical fiction in this era, but nothing quite like this story; and it left me intrigued and wanting to read more.
Thanks to Audiobookworm Promotions for providing me with a copy of the story so that I could participate in the blog tour. The tour is being sponsored by Essential Audiobooks. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
Author: Imogen Matthews
Narrator: Liam Gerrard
Length: 9 hours and 48 minutes
Publisher: I M Associates
Released: May 31, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Wartime Holland. Whom can you trust?
Deep in the Veluwe woods lies Berkenhout, a purpose-built village of huts sheltering dozens of persecuted people. But the Germans can find no proof of its existence. The whole community pulls together to help the Berkenhout inhabitants adjust to a difficult new life and, above all, stay safe.
Sofie, a Jewish Dutch girl, struggles to adapt to living in Berkenhout, away from her family and friends. As weeks turn to months, she’s worried they’ll abandon her altogether. Young tearaway Jan likes to help, but he also enjoys roaming the woods looking for adventure and fallen pilots. His dream comes true, until he is found out. Henk is in charge of building the underground huts and organizing provisions to Berkenhout, but his contact with the Germans arouses suspicions.
Whom can you trust? All it takes is one small fatal slip to change the course of all their lives forever.
Imogen Matthews is English and lives in the beautiful University town of Oxford. Before she wrote The Hidden Village, she published two romantic fiction e-novels under her pen name, Alex Johnson. The Hidden Village is published by Amsterdam Publishers, based in the Netherlands.
Imogen has strong connections with the Netherlands. Born in Rijswijk to a Dutch mother and English father, the family moved to England when Imogen was very young.
Every year since 1990, Imogen has been on family holidays to Nunspeet on the edge of the Veluwe woods.
It was here that she discovered the story of the hidden village, and together with her mother’s vivid stories of life in WW2 Holland, she was inspired to write her next novel.
Liam is an Irish born voice-artist with over 10 years experience working in every field of the voice industry. His recent varied audiobook work includes the ‘Deception of a Highlander’ series of 3 books, Little Caesar for Audible, A Christmas Carol, The Tempest and Aviation Training. His regular corporate voice-clients include: Shell, BP, HMRC, HSBC, Hilton, Mondelez, Cadburys, Green & Blacks and many more. He has performed many radio-plays, narrations, animations and documentaries; from the Keith Moon biography to most Shakespeare radio-plays.
He is also an Associate Lecturer in Broadcast Voice and ‘Acting for Radio’ at Sheffield Hallam University.
He is a communication skills specialist and examiner for the Royal College of Psychiatry, Royal College of Surgeons, Royal Scottish College of Surgery and as such is highly fluent in complicated medical reads with Latin pronunciations.
He is also a highly acclaimed stage and screen actor. He studied at Lancaster University and then as a classically trained actor at Mountview. He spent his formative years in the Middle-East which has given him an understanding of different accents and cultures and is able to perform many accents to a native standard; including most UK regions, most Irish regions, most of Europe, Australia and North America, (hillbilly, New York, mid-Atlantic, San Francisco, Chicago, etc.) and is also able to create wildly inventive characters. He has lent his voice to some of the zaniest cartoons and animations written, from grumpy old wizards, to heroes, to South-American monkeys and even a sea-horse with a Scottish accent!
He is currently the youngest actor to play the lead role of Prospero in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in London’s West–End. His recent production of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh won 4 prestigious Critic’s Choice Awards. He has worked for the most renowned theatre companies; from The Royal Exchange Theatre (2 Manchester theatre award nominations) to most regional theatres throughout the UK, including Alan Aykbourn’s SJT, New Vic, Oldham Coliseum, Donmar, Dukes, Nottingham Playhouse, Theatre by the Lake and many more. He also played Jerry in ‘Hollyoaks’ and appeared alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Hollywood feature film ‘Death Defying Acts’. His wide-ranging experience has also seen him perform Opera in ‘Rigoletto’.
In his spare time Liam is also a musician, playing violin, drums, piano and percussion, and spends time with Peg, his Springer Spaniel, out in the Peak District whenever he can get away from the studio!
I shared my extensive thoughts above, but I would give this book 4/5 stars as I definitely enjoyed the story, author’s voice, and the overall narration. The pace of the story itself started out slow and ended with a burst of excitement. I might have preferred a bit more lead up to the ending, and it did leave me with some questions; but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book and specifically in the audiobook format!
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Essential Audiobooks. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
- Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
- Absolutely not! I didn’t even know it would be possible. In some ways I’m pleased I wasn’t thinking about how The Hidden Village would sound as it might have inhibited my writing. I had a clear idea of how the characters sounded in my head and they shaped my writing. However, having turned The Hidden Village into an audiobook, I’m more mindful of how the words will be spoken as I’m writing my next novel (also set in Holland in WW2).
- How did you select your narrator?
- I was introduced to my narrator, Liam Gerrard, through Catherine O’Brien, CEO of Essential Audiobooks. After reading and becoming very enthusiastic about my novel, she suggested that Liam would be the perfect narrator for the job as he had experience in narrating World War 2 novels, has a fantastic CV as an actor and voiceover artist and has his own recording studio. It gave me the confidence that he would do an excellent job. I asked him to do me an audition of the first chapter which we then discussed in detail, so that he could understand what I was looking for in terms of characterisation, pace and style.
- How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process?
- Most of my involvement took place at the beginning of the project. Once he began recording for real, he didn’t get in touch with me at all until he’d completed the job. I was slightly nervous that I might need to ask him to rerecord sections, but it wasn’t necessary. Listening to his narration the first time through, I was amazed at how he’d interpreted my writing and really brought the story to life.
- Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
- I made some voice files for Liam which describe the characters as well as the pronunciation of Dutch and German words and phrases, names and place names. We went through these meticulously and Liam even noticed a couple I’d missed! His attention to detail was extraordinary. He had really read and understood the story which comes out strongly in his narration.
- Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
- The Hidden Village is based on a real place in Holland which I discovered on one of my many cycling holidays in the area. Deep in the Veluwe woods is a memorial to the local people who had risked their lives to help Jews hide from the Germans by building a village of underground huts. Not only that, they brought in food, clothing, medicines and all other necessities all the time that the German soldiers were patrolling the woods looking for Jews in hiding. It was an extraordinary feat and the Dutch community almost got away with it. I came across a Dutch book with interviews of people who had lived in the area at the time, including those who had helped with the building of the village and others who’d gone to live there. It is the determination and courage of these people in the face of evil that interested me most.
- My mother was Dutch and I grew up hearing about her experiences and stories of survival during the Hunger Winter in 1944-45. Food ran out, people starved to death but my mother and family survived because she cycled into the bulbfields and dug up tulip bulbs which they boiled as their only source of nutrition. Her stories were both horrifying and uplifting – she was a young woman at the time and often said that she’d found the war to be an exciting time. This is what made me want to have young people as my main character.
- How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
- I so wanted to get this story down as it’s about my own personal history and the place I love to visit most. I visit Nunspeet in Holland with my husband and other family members at least once a year and when I’m back in the woods the words really flow again.
- Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
- I have to confess I’d never listened to an audiobook before my own! (I know, shame on me!). Now, I’ve been through the process, I appreciate just how brilliant an audiobook can be. I’ve started listening in the car, grabbing a chapter or two on short journeys and more on longer ones and have a feeling that I’m getting my reading in without having to pick up a book. I still love reading books as well and think the two are very complementary.
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