When It's Over

A Novel

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Pub Date 26 Sep 2017 | Archive Date 16 Sep 2017


Coming of age in Prague in the 1930s, Lena Kulkova is inspired by the left-wing activists who resist the rise of fascism. She meets Otto, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, and follows him to Paris to work for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. As the war in Spain ends and a far greater war engulfs the continent, Lena gets stuck in Paris with no news from her Jewish family, including her beloved baby sister, left behind in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Otto, meanwhile, has fled to a village in England, and urges Lena to join him, but she can’t obtain a visa.
When Lena and Otto are finally reunited, the safe haven Lena has hoped for doesn’t last long. Their relationship becomes strained, and Lena is torn between her loyalty to Otto and her growing attraction to Milton, the son of the eccentric Lady of the Manor. As the war continues, she yearns to be reunited with her sister, while Milton is preoccupied with the political turmoil that leads to the landslide defeat of Churchill in the 1945 election.
Based on a true story, When It’s Over is a moving, resonant, and timely read about the lives of war refugees, dramatic political changes, and the importance of family, love, and hope.

Coming of age in Prague in the 1930s, Lena Kulkova is inspired by the left-wing activists who resist the rise of fascism. She meets Otto, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, and follows him to Paris to...

A Note From the Publisher

BARBARA RIDLEY was raised in England but has lived in California for more than thirty years. After a successful career as a nurse practitioner, which included publication in numerous professional journals, she is now focused on creative writing. Her work has appeared in literary journals, such as The Writers Workshop Review, Still Crazy, Ars Medica, The Copperfield Review and BLYNKT. This is her first novel. Ridley lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her partner and her dog, and she has one adult daughter, of whom she is immensely proud. She enjoys hiking, backpacking and cross-country skiing in the mountains.

BARBARA RIDLEY was raised in England but has lived in California for more than thirty years. After a successful career as a nurse practitioner, which included publication in numerous professional...

Advance Praise

“Compelling and complex, with a strong female protagonist, When It’s Over adds a much-needed fresh perspective to the canon of World War II literature. A first-rate first novel that makes you look forward to Ridley’s second.”—Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade and The Bigness of the World


“Lena’s intelligent and sensitive perspective exposes all the idealism and hope of young love and optimism, followed by the poignant realizations of human frailty and political reality as adulthood dawns. Lena’s beautifully developed character, Ridley’s commanding sense of place and well-drawn supporting cast bring this intricate historical fiction vividly to life."—Barbara Stark-Nemon, winner, Sarton Literary Award for Historical Fiction


“"This fraught love story brings to life passionate, personal, and political struggles in the face of paranoia and prejudice in wartime England.  It’s a story that resonates with the tensions and blindness all too apparent in the twenty-first century."—Desmond Barry, author of The Chivalry of Crime


"With rich, sensuous details, Barbara Ridley captures the tumultuous 1940s in England, transporting you with a captivating story about love, loss and war."—Nina Schuyler, author of The Translator 


“Compelling and complex, with a strong female protagonist, When It’s Over adds a much-needed fresh perspective to the canon of World War II literature. A first-rate first novel that makes you look...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781631522963
PRICE US$16.95 (USD)

Average rating from 8 members

Featured Reviews

This is a beautifully written emotional story that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It brings to life the horrors of war, the bravery of ordinary people forced into unfathomable situations and in Lena, Otto and Milton gives life to characters who you will remember long after you have finished this book.

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A WWII novel about a group of young socialist adults from Prague and Germany, who end up in England having escaped the Nazi regime. There are many WWII novels around at the moment, some good, some not so much, but in this one I found the main character, Lena, engaging, and her story which was told chronologically, as well as telling a story of her own and her friends' struggles to carry on with living while their world collapsed around them, was also informative in a non-intrusive way about the events of that terrible time.

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I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Barbara Ridley, and She Writes Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.

I LOVE that this novel had as an opening salvo a calendar of actual historical events covering the duration of this historical novel. It is a help my poor old brain needs. The big events hold their place in line but when the story travels from now until then it makes it difficult to stay focused. Thank you!

This is a look at WWII from a completely different aspect. We follow a group of political refugees as they move through Europe working against fascism, some just a step or two ahead of capture by the Germans. This is a novel I can heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys history. Barbara Ridley has a way with words and knows just how to touch your heart strings.

Our protagonist Lena is a strong, courageous woman with a firm respect for herself and her place in the flow of those times. A Czechoslovakian Jew, Lena is proficient in several languages and works as a secretary and translator for the Economic Information Bureau in Prague, a cover business for anti-fascists. She moves to Paris in May of 1938 with her employer and lover Otto, a German man with a price on his head who is working to aid the Republican cause in Spain. She quickly fits into a small community of fellow Czechs, and is still in Paris in the fall of '38 when Czechoslovakia falls to the Nazi's. Lena is heartbroken as she is unable to further encourage her families' often postponed efforts to flee Prague, or to return and collect her little sister Sasha. Her friend Otto is already in England and attempting to get Lena a visa to join him, but what was simple in the summer of 1939 becomes a boondoggle as England and France declare war on Germany in September of 1939. Although her English is not as strong as her French, Lena again finds a place of community and helpful work upon her delayed arrival in England in March of 1940.

I love that the title is 'When it's Over" but you rarely hear people say it. Everyone is yearning for an end to this massive conflict, but they keep busy with the problems of 'now'. Lena is very upbeat and people oriented, and quickly makes herself a place in a community of strangers and in your heart.

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An enthralling tale of love and hope during WWII with complex characters, a plucky protagonist and a convincing backdrop.

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This is a very first book that I read by Barbara Ridley. This is a historical fiction, based on a true story. I like the fact that events are set in the chronological order

The story starts in 1938. Lena, a young Jewish girl, who falls for Otto, German-born and now Spanish spy. At the beginning of the war, he is able to get Lena out of Chekoslovakia to France and later with a help of his friends to England. Lena is heartbroken to leave her family behind. Often she blames her father for not trying to move Mama and Sasha to safety on time.

While living in English suburbs, Lena feels attraction to Milton, son of the lady of the Manor. However she is dedicated to Otto and when he is arrested for simply being German - Lena marries him to get him out of jail. After moving to London, Lena and Otto find different interests, he is stuck in the past, angry that people no longer interested in his political views. Lena, on the other hand, is eager to move forward, learn the language and new skills. She still hopes that one day she will be reunited with her Mama and Sasha. Lena is estranged from her father, who is retired from Czech army located in England, however, she keeps contact with her younger brother.

As years go by, Lena realizes she no longer wants to be married to Otto. During one of the political gatherings, Lena and Otto reconnect with Milton, their mutual friend. Milton invites them to come back to suburbs and visit his mother. Lena accepts an invitation alone and takes it as a break from Otto. After her return, Lena accepts the fact that her marriage to Otto is over, she moves out, starts an affair with Milton, that will end in their marriage.

And at last the war is over. Lena receives the devastating news that her Mama and little sister were sent to concentration camp. The news completely crashes her heart and Lena forsware anything that ties her back to the country she was born and grew up in. She has minimum contact with her father and brother ever since. She marries Milton and they have 2 beautiful children together. They live a happy and calm life after the war. However, the loss of her mother and sister forever engraved on her heart.

This is not just another WW2 novel. This is a story of young girl's courage and stubbornness to survive. Many times thru the novel I picked up a phone and called my mom just to tell her I love her. I feel the pain Lena experience for not knowing what had happened to her beloved mother and little sister. And afterward her reaction to the news and the fact that she wanted to longer have anything associated with her motherland.

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I’ve read a lot of historical fiction set in WW2, and, to be frank, I’ll probably never tire of it. However, it’s always refreshing to get a new angle and this novel delivers it. It opens in Prague and focuses on the experiences of a family of Czech Jews. As the author explains in her afterword, the book is a work of fiction but based on the experiences of her parents. The narrative switches back and forth in time covering the period 1938 to 1944. The reader is transported from pre-war Prague, to occupied Paris and to England during the period of the Blitz.

The story focuses on Lena Kulkova, intelligent and independent-minded, who joins the left-wing movements active in pre-war Prague, much to the anger of her father. She forms a close friendship with a group of like-minded individuals, including the idealistic and charismatic Otto. Through Otto, Lena becomes involved in intelligence work and as the threat of war grows, she follows Otto to Paris to continue this work, leaving her father, mother, brother and young sister in Prague. This is a decision that will come to haunt Lena once the Nazis occupy Czechoslovakia and she finds herself alone in Paris, unable either to follow Otto to safety in England or return to help her family. Eventually, Lena does escape to England where she joins a community of Czech exiles given refuge by a socialist sympathiser.

It is difficult now to imagine the scale of displacement that took place during this period, as people sought refuge in one country after another, dependent on charity from others and never knowing if or when they might return to their homeland. Through Lena’s experiences, the author conveys this sense of displacement, the challenge of having to survive on your own in a strange country, the agony of separation from your family, potentially the object of suspicion or worse and starved of news of what is happening to those left behind.

The book charts the complex relationship between Otto and Lena which is never conventional and experiences many stresses and strains over the years. Although Lena yearns for news of her mother and sister and worries that her actions may have unwittingly exposed them to danger, her feelings about returning to Czechoslovakia become more complicated. She grows to like England, to admire the spirit of its people, their resilience during the Blitz and determination to, if you like, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

‘Lena…felt the promise of something else: a home away from home in this newly adopted country; a new family to stand in for hers, which was scattered and fragmented; a sanctuary in these scary times.’

The author creates a really authentic period feel, particularly in the sections set in London. There are all the things you associated with wartime England: rationing, Lyon’s Tea Rooms, dried egg, spam, the national loaf, fish paste sandwiches and tea – lots and lots of tea.

‘We carry on as if this is all normal, she thought. We do everyday things, like make the tea and find clean cups. The mundane normalcy: we have to cling to this.’

In the end, Lena chooses a different future for herself but emotional scars from her wartime experiences persist, as the very moving conclusion to the novel demonstrates. I really enjoyed When It’s Over. It’s well-written, well-structured and I found myself drawn into the story of Lena and the other characters. Even if I hadn’t known it was based on true events, it would have felt authentic and real.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, She Writes Press, in return for an honest review.

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