All the reading on the National Rust these days appears to be on the Second World War. I have just finished “Sleep in Peace Tonight” and could not commend it too highly. It is fiction based on fact on the visit of President Roosevelt’s friend and envoy Harry Hopkins to Britain in January 1941 and his subsequent and vital role as a conduit between Winston Churchill and Roosevelt. Contrary to popular belief neither Roosevelt nor the country over which he presided enjoyed the most productive relationship with Churchill at that period. Roosevelt had first met Churchill in 1917 when the former was secretary to the Navy and the latter a Sea Lord and found him a bombastic Empire loyalist . Nor was there much national enthusiasm to join a war to save the British empire which many felt was doomed with huge loss of life so the isolationist movement under Charkes Lindbergh was powerful.
Hopkins was soon seduced by the magnetism of Churchill, the power and passion of his oratory and also falling in love with his driver ,a feisty 24 year old called Leonora Fincn. This is probably the one fictional character and possibly the relationship was modelled on Eisenhower’s war time affaire with his driver.
The spirit of the blitz is well evoked and the book is fascinating on how London not only survived but in some way flourished as its mettle was tested by constant bombing. It was a time of promiscuity epitomised by Churchill’s daughter-in- law Pamela having simultaneous affaires with legendary broadcaster Ed Murrow and diplomat Averell Harriman whilst his daughter Sarah was embroiled with American ambassador Gil Winant. Hopkins was to be betrothed bac home but soon events took another course.
1941 was to prove a crucial year. The Axis made their greatest blunders with an invasion of Russia and the bombing of Pearl Harbour which forced Amercia into the war. Japan was their logical enemy but Churchill via Hopkins convinced Roosevelt that it was in their national interest to put Germany first . This and the successful Russian resistance was to swing the war irretrievably to the allies. Whilst the importance of El Alamein is probably exaggerated , there is no denying the fortitude of Churchill and the British people in defying the Nazis in 1941.
James MacManus brings all this to life . His research is impeccable both politicsl and social. Towards the end of the novel Leonaoa Finch joins the SOE. I found this the least satisfactory part of the novel simply because i have read so much of these brave young women dropped into occupied countries . I sometimes wonder if this is part of the feminist debate about woman’s integration into the armed services as like so many of Churchill’s ideas it bordered on the crackpot as they were quickly caught, tortured and existing networks were compromised.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of the story is that Roosevelt and Hopkins suffered from bad health , polio and cancer respectively whilst Churchill who ate and drank in industrial quantities had such a strong constitution that he suffered no ill health till after the end of the war he walked in front of a taxi in New York.
With no footage on you tube to learn more about these enormous political figures we are indebted to authors like James MacManus for bringing them to life so vividly . For those of us who have reached saturation point with the Tudors such a novel ,set in a period of our history of which we should be proud but also one which you would have be to in your eighties to recall personally , is most welcome .