The Silent Hen

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
320 Pages
Reviewed on 07/15/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Silent Hen by Helen Montague Foster is a thrilling spy story set in World War II in Egypt and Yugoslavia. Written as a tribute to the author’s parents, the story focuses on the operatives of America’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to today’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Lucy was determined to serve her country during the war, even if that meant putting herself in grave danger as a spy and a member of the OSS. After rigorous training, Lucy and her compatriots are sent to Egypt, where she is involved in decoding messages and keeping an eye on the many prominent refugees seeking asylum in Egypt, especially those of European royal blood. When she falls in love with Gordon, one of her coworkers, she is terrified when he is sent to Yugoslavia to assist the partisans in their fight against the Nazis. Meanwhile, in a small farmhouse in Yugoslavia, an eight-year-old girl, Bella, who has lost her parents to the war, hides in a small cubbyhole inside an old stone cottage with her pet chicken. Bella’s future may well depend on an American man she has yet to meet, in Gordon, and on a woman named Lucy, who resembles the girl’s murdered mother.

The Silent Hen is a poignant and heartstring-tugging novel of loss and suffering. Author Helen Montague Foster has created a cast of characters and a believable and relatable story as a tribute to her parents. I appreciated the author’s descriptive prose that outlined the beauty and dangers of Yugoslavia amid war, especially the tensions between the local ethnic populations that made up Yugoslavia at the time. However, there was little doubt that the Nazis were indeed the enemy; ethnic and religious differences that would later come to the fore made uniting against a common foe difficult. The author’s idea of linking the characters during World War II and showing them again in their later years, just after 9/11, was an inspired choice and gave the story a sense of closure, which I enjoyed. The author used the narrative to discuss the dilemma faced when removing children from their cultural and familial backgrounds and implanting them in a foreign, albeit loving environment. It was great to see both sides of this argument from the adults' and the children’s perspectives. This fascinating story frequently makes readers put themselves in the characters' shoes and ask the question, what would I have done? This is the hallmark of a successful story, and for that reason and many others, I can highly recommend it.