The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow


If there is one book you should read this year it is this one.  



A captivating story of two young women, bound together by the tragedy of two very different wars. Perfect for fans of Katie Flynn and Maureen Lee.

For Jess and Rose, the realities of war have terrible repercussions …

2012 and Jess, an army medic, is back home following her tour of Afghanistan. Shell- shocked by what she has seen, she wonders if her life will ever be the same again. Can help come through her great-grandmother Rose’s diaries?

1922 and Rose has just welcomed her beloved husband Alfie home from the First World War. But the homecoming is not what Rose had expected; Alfie returns from war a changed man, and not the same person Rose married. As he struggles to find work and to cope with life, Rose struggles with temptation…

Can an old factory, set up to help injured soldiers, help Jess, Rose and Alfie and save them from the heartache of war


My Review

I was somehow expecting to read a run of the mill WWI novel but was absolutely blown away by this book so much so that I could not put it down.
I like how Trenow binds the experience of a young women serving in Afghanistan as a medic, with world war one soldiers. She shows Jess as feeling so capable, so able and defiantly okay after her own experience of being fired on in the field whilst helping the wounded and refuses to acknowledge that she is falling apart with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The diaries written by Jess’s great-grandmother tells a parallel story of how PTST or shell shock as it was called then affected the lives of people after WWI.

This story is as much about how war affects communities as it is about individuals and you realise that nothing has really changed in the 100 years that have gone by, the technology of war may have changed but the affects remain the same.

There are many powerful bits to this book that have been written so sensitively the image simply stayed in my mind as I read on. The first is the sense of absolute fear and trauma for this medic is described such:

‘They were completely pinned down with their faces in the dust, unable to make any movement or noise for fear of attracting Taliban fire. …….Then she realised she was hyperventilating, and knew that she had to concentrate on something to stop herself panicking and passing out.
And then…oh God, then…she’d lifted her eyes and seen the poppy….a late bloom, a single stem topped by a single red flower…..When the firing had stopped she reopened her eyes and looked for the poppy.
It had gone.’

As Jess’s sinks into an alcoholic escape and her life falls apart, she fights the intonation that she cannot deal the nightmares and flashbacks alone.

To give a parallel of Alfie who returns from the front having lost a leg suffering the same trauma is seamless. I love the way the Rose focuses no only on herself but on a whole community in the diaries, in the same way that Trenow describes the effects on all those close to and around Jess.

There is a lot of domestic history in the descriptions from the diaries, especially the roles of women once the men returned from the war from factories to being at home and being dependent on another. Trenow allows the reader to step back in time into the lives of ordinary people, women having worked in factories, communities helping each other. Then the grieving for all the sons and fathers who never returned, but the joy of those who did and how that affected the community as a whole.

Looking beyond the regular daily visits to the pub and drink to forget, you get a sense of helplessness of not be able to leave the horrors of war behind and you begin a sense of understanding how PTSD affects individuals.

When Rose and her mother go to the new Cenotaph for Remembrance Day, reading it brought me to tears as it is written so movingly:

‘ The silence was like being in the countryside at the dead of night, or down a deep tunnel lined with velvet. You could almost touch it. ….A blackbird started up in a tree and my thoughts turned to my brothers…’

This book is an education about who started the Poppy Factory and why, as it was an integral part of the the novel both then and now. A lifeline with dignity. There is so much in this book that is still turning over in my mind, not questions but the simple truth of it.

I love this book it touched me deep inside.

If there is one book you should read this year it is this one.



To learn more about this author please go to her website:

400 pages

Expected publication: August 28th 2014

ISBN:  0007510489 (ISBN13: 9780007510481)

Publisher:  HarperColling Uk, Avon