Visit the East Ends of London and Berlin on the home front during World War I in A Plague on Both Your Houses by Ian Porter.
A Plague on Both Your Houses is set in London and Berlin in May 1918 during World War I. In London, we meet Ruby and Alexander Nash (or Nashey). Ruby has been working with Sylvia Pankhurst in the women’s suffrage movement, while Nashey is a rough East Londoner with some dubious connections. In Berlin, we meet Dorothea Lipp, a widow and ex-nurse who volunteered with the Federation of German Women’s Associations. She went to England before the war and met other women fighting for suffrage, including the Nashes. The story switches between both sides throughout the novel, with many similarities between them.
I really liked that A Plague on Both Your Houses accurately depicts the home front during World War I. Ian has carried out a lot of research into the day-to-day life for those left at home, which he details further in the Author’s Notes. Many of the events in the book are based on real events — yes, they really did serve elephant steak in a Berlin bar!
A key theme in the story is the flu epidemic that swept the world in 1918. This was a really interesting element given current world events! The descriptions of the flu and the deaths from it are really vivid and harrowing. It was fascinating to learn government reactions to it, as Dr Alice Johnson sits on a board representing East End MDs. This is an area of history that was mostly forgotten until very recently. People’s fear and the sense of ‘living in the moment’ is equally relatable today.
Ruby and Nashey are great characters. I loved reading their banter and they felt like a very modern, equal partnership! I work in Aldgate East so really liked the references to places in their area. It really helped me to picture and relate to their story better. Ruby gets a job as a policewoman for a while, based at Leman Street police station. Nashey is written like a true East Ender and is a lovable rogue.
The story itself is a slow burner and it takes a while for all the connections to come together. All the characters may have very different lives but have similar views on the war, women’s rights and helping others. I really liked the ending, and hope to read more about Ruby and Nashey’s post-war lives! This is a great read for those interested in World War I, and how normal people lived their lives during the war.
The blurb for A Plague on Both Your Houses
It’s May 1918. The Great War is finally coming to a conclusion. The German Spring Offensive appears to be winning the war before the recent arrival into Europe of American troops can have any military effect.
But the German Home Front is struggling. The Allied blockade of foodstuffs; a poor government and a potato blight have left the German people hungry and angry. In comparison, the introduction of rationing proves a great boon to morale in Britain. And just in time too. Because the American troops have brought with them something far more deadly than their own firepower. A deadly mutated flu virus.
In the East End of London, Mr & Mrs Nash have not bought into the war. He’s a tough ex-villain who hides conscientious objectors from the authorities. But the government’s net appears to be drawing in on him. She helps Sylvia Pankhurst run a nursery, restaurant cum soup kitchen and a toy factory, as well as badger officialdom to give more help to people. And as an ex-Suffragette she knows how to both use and circumvent the law when it suits her.
In the East End of Berlin, a nurse, a farmer, a black marketer, a soldier home on leave and a rich woman with a chauffeuse are all woven together as the Germany Home Front starts to collapse into starvation, retribution and rioting. Germany can’t fight the British, the flu and themselves.
It’s a fast paced page-turner, full of action and personal relationships, as the two stories and the people of two countries come together to solve a huge problem the war and the flu has created.
Before he turned his quill to penning novels, Ian was a professional non-fiction writer. He wrote most of the original edition of the guide book Where to Ski & Snowboard. He contributed to non-fiction work on such diverse subjects as the Suffragettes, the Titanic, Jack the Ripper and Charming Small Hotels! He now lectures and guides walks, primarily in women’s 19th and early 20th century history. Which brings us to his novels. His first, Whitechapel, is set in the East End slums of 1888 at the time of the Whitechapel Murders. His second, the highly acclaimed Suffragette Autumn Women’s Spring, is set within the Votes for Woman campaign between 1912-14. This, his third novel, A Plague on Both Your Houses, is set in 1918-19 in the final months of the Great War and the following months, during the flu pandemic, in both the East End of London and the East End of Berlin. His next novel (title to be decided) is again set in the Victorian East End and will be published later this year.
Ian has a degree in history from the University of Birmingham, where he was awarded the Chancellor’s Prize for outstanding achievement. He is married, lives in Kent and when he’s not doing research or writing, likes to play and watch lots of sport.