Little, Brown, £12.99
David Baddiel's third novel recounts the story of Isaac Fabian, a German Jewish refugee interned on the Isle of Man during World War II. It's obviously a tale close to Baddiel's heart – his grandfather was an internee on the island – but there are a number of problems here.
Isaac, his wife Lulu and their baby daughter Rebekka arrive in Cambridge in 1939, having escaped the social restrictions and persecution of Nazi Germany. Having married an Aryan woman, Isaac is saved from the peril of deportation to a concentration camp and almost certain death. But, not long after their arrival, the couple must separate as Isaac is arrested and sent to a refugee camp on the Isle of Man.
As Isaac struggles to settle in to a new set of restrictions and Lulu works to get him released, their now disparate lives unfold side by side. When June Murray, a researcher with the Ministry of Information, comes to the Isle of Man on a mission to find evidence of mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Nazis, she and Isaac form a close bond that threatens to destroy the life he has tried to create for his family.
'The Secret Purposes' is well written, well researched and intelligent, but the main problem lies in Isaac's relationship with June. We're never given enough explanation for their attraction. Even June's presence on the island in the first place is never satisfactorily explained and is highly unlikely to have happened at all. Baddiel's tale, though in part very poignant and realistic, suffers greatly from this tenuous romance.
Another difficulty lies in the fact that, at one point, Isaac details an experience in a concentration camp to June, but the reader knows the situation did not happen to him, but is an amalgamation of other internees' experiences. We're told he did this out of love for June and to help her get the information she needed for her report, but it really trivialises the collective suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust to have Isaac lie about such an incident, and is in quite poor taste on Baddiel's part.
'The Secret Purposes' could have been a much better novel if Baddiel had focussed more on Isaac and Lulu's separation from each other and alienation from the society they've sought refuge in. Unfortunately, this is a missed opportunity.