Summary: Living in Estonia during World War II, Madli witnesses her independent homeland being taken over by the Soviet army. As the army tries to convince Estonian citizens to become comrades, Madli’s father is arrested for writing about the truth of the occupation. When Madli and her brothers go to stay with their grandparents for a summer vacation, they find themselves in the middle of the war, caught between the Soviets on one side and the Nazis on the other. Faced with impossible decisions when it comes to trying to survive and protect those she loves, Madli ponders the importance of integrity versus freedom. In the end, it all adds up to a choice between the two great evils of the world.
Number of Pages: 251
Age Range: 15-17
Review: In a powerful book about Estonia’s untold stories of World War II, Urve Tamberg provides insight into the philosophical questions of war as one girl navigates her way through choices no one should have to make. Madli is a fifteen year old facing grown up decisions of hanging on to one’s integrity in the face of death. At times her decisions are impulsive, but mostly they are well considered actions Madli makes in search of the greater good in a horrible situation.
When it comes to fiction about a historical event I’m familiar with, I know how things are going to end. In this case I was on pins and needles, knowing the Nazis were not the heroes they appeared to be, and feeling incredible sadness when the people of Estonia realised they were caught between two evils.
I love Tamberg’s book because she explores the complexity of war with thoughtfulness, providing her reader with real characters who respond in many different ways to the situation they find themselves in. The story itself unfolds with well-paced action and smooth, detailed, exceptional writing that I couldn’t put down. And, of course, the romance aspect helped with not being able to put it down as well.
Tamberg ends her acknowledgements with a quote from Guy Vanderhaeghe: “History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt.” The Darkest Corner of the World did both for me, telling me about things I never imagined happening, and helping me find empathy for the people who experienced it. I’d recommend this book for teen and adult readers, because it informs and challenges readers to consider what they would choose.
“Messy Hair leaned closer. ‘You’re lucky to be so memorable.’
Madli held her tongue and her breath. Being memorable to the Soviet army was the last thing she wanted. Being unremarkable, being anonymous, being able to hide in plain sight – that would keep you alive. If you were memorable, they could find you. Arrest you. Kill you.” – Madli from The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg, page 7
“Though she wouldn’t admit it, she half agreed with Kalju. If they hid from the Soviets, they’d be giving in to their game. If they didn’t, they could be arrested, deported, or executed. For the truth. Fine choices. ‘We could be right-minded people with high morals and get killed. Why take a chance?'” – Madli from The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg, page 44
“‘Why would the Soviets do this?’ Madli rested her head on her mother’s knee. ‘They’ve taken old people and children and families. Why are these people being punished?’
‘Hundreds, maybe thousands,’ Mama said, her face pale. She twisted the hem of her dress.
‘How could they be a threat to society or a danger to anyone?’ Madli asked. ‘Who could they hurt?’
‘The Soviets want to eliminate the culture, not only arrest government officials and other bureaucrats.’ Mama’s eyes were deep wells of sorrow. ‘They want to remove any trace of Estonia. Who is the future of a country? Its children. If there are no children, there is no future.’ A sigh escaped. ‘Who holds the memory of the culture? The mothers and grandmothers. If they are gone, so are the memories.’
Icicles dripped down Madli’s spine.” – Conversation between Madli and her mother from The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg, pages 52-53
“Despite the loud conversation and presence of her family, Madli felt totally alone in a world where she had no control, simply luck.” – Madli from The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg, page 58
“Papa and Mama had always taught her to think things through, make good decisions, be responsible. They’d never mentioned luck. The kind of luck that has nothing to do with fairness or responsibility. Bad luck breaks down the door and drags an innocent man to Siberia. Good luck makes a man go to the outhouse as the soldiers travel down a narrow gravel road.” – Madli from The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg, pages 186-187
“No one would imagine she could do such a thing.
Like vanilla or chocolate.
Like freedom or integrity.
Freedom or the disappointment of her father. The guilt of perpetuating an ideology supporting the extermination of Jews and the creation of a master Aryan race.
Freedom or the integrity of one’s convictions.
‘Oma silm on kuningas.’
Trust what you see yourself.” – Madli from The Darkest Corner of the World by Urve Tamberg, pages 214-215