I first read The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow when I was preparing to attend City University London last year. Trenow penned the story during her time studying the Novel MA at that same university. Fast forward to half way through my courses, when we were encouraged to find guest tutors. Trenow was the first person who came to mind, and I’m happy to say that she is as lovely as her writing. She worked with me first hand on my dissertation, giving priceless advice. If my novel turns out half as good as The Last Telegram, I will be pleased.
But back to the point. Set during the second World War, The Last Telegram focuses on ambitious Lily Verner and her family. The Verners own and run a successful silk mill in England, and when rumors of impending war begin to circulate, Lily’s father Harold changes the focus of the mill from producing silk for expensive clothing, to producing silk meant for parachutes. As stressed numerous times throughout the story, the silk used in parachutes has to be perfect—it must withstand certain pressure and strain in order to work properly. “Get it right, and you save lives, sir. Get it wrong, and you’ve got dead pilots.”
Lily, who has begun apprenticing at the mill, finds herself in the midst of the war effort, as well as the war’s terrors. Her older brother enlists, her best friend is working at a hospital in London, and her family vouches for a trio of German Jews. The boys are refugees whose parents managed to send them out of the country in the hopes of keeping them safe. Lily soon forms a close friendship with Stefan, the oldest—while it was somewhat obvious that their relationship would eventually become a romance, it was lovely to watch it unfold through Trenow’s lively sentences. Lily and Stefan’s relationship is met with resistance by the workers at the mill, as well as her own father, adding considerable tension to a story already dripping with the stress of the war.
To say much more would entail giving spoilers, so I will cut my details short. Lily’s story is both breath-taking and heart-wrenching. Trenow has woven a story as vibrant and resilient as the silk she describes, and I am eager to read more of her work. I’m half way through her second novel, The Forgotten Seamstress. The Poppy Factory also looks intriguing. 5/5 stars.
What is your favorite WWII novel? Have you read anything by Liz Trenow? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!