I discovered that Grandfather’s world was full of mirages and mazes, of mirrors and misleading signs. He was fascinated by riddles and codes and conundrums and labyrinths, by the origin of place names, by grammar, by slang, by jokes —although he never laughed at them— by anything that might mean something else. He lived in a world that was slippery, changeable, fluid . . . ” p. 111
Tamar by Mal Peet is a story about spies and undercover espionage and the underground during World War II. It’s the story of a man who became so enmeshed in his world of subterfuge and code and disguises that he could no longer trust anyone or even function in a straight forward and honest manner.
What a scary, insecure sort of world to inhabit! And, to some extent, it is the world we live in. We live inside a cosmic joke, and if there is no central, unchanging, organizing Principle or Answer—if this world is completely “slippery, changeable, fluid”— the joke is not really very funny. There is no Standard from which to deviate, no center.
But with God at the center, the joke becomes at least bittersweet. We are promised a happy ending, and all of the riddles, conundrums, mazes and codes make sense because there truly is an answer, not just endless, chaotic, meaningless, perpetual change. We may not find all the answers or decode all the messages, but we are assured that the answers do exist, that all will be revealed in God’s time. And in the meantime, we can enjoy the Joke.
Tamar isn’t really about all these spiritual questions or about God or meaning in life. It’s a story about a family dealing with the aftermath of horrific events that happened during World War II but continued to shape the family and their relationships up through today. The sins of the fathers, or grandfather, are visited upon the third generation.
Nevertheless, the book made me think about change and deception and mirage and reality. So, I share those thoughts and recommend Mal Peet’s Tamar to anyone who has an interest in family dynamics and family secrets, the after effects of war, and the mysteries of ethics and forgiveness and repentance.
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: