Novel: When It’s Over


The author’s mother in 1940

When It’s Over is a literary novel set in England during World War II. Lena is a young Czech Jewish woman who manages to reach England and join a group of refugees staying in a small village in Sussex, where they are sponsored by an eccentric upper-class, left-wing English family. As the war progresses, Lena is torn between her attraction to Milton, the landlady’s son, and her loyalty to fellow refugee Otto. She tries to keep hope alive in the face of frightening news reports on the fate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, while Milton is caught up in the political movement that leads to the defeat of Churchill’s Tory Party in 1945, ushering in Britain’s first viable Labour Government.

When It’s Over deals with universal themes of optimism versus pessimism, hope and denial, and the assimilation of immigrants during a time of social upheaval. Although it is a work of fiction, it is based on Barbara’s late mother’s experience as a refugee in the 1940’s.

Barbara was inspired to write the novel after her mother’s death in 2002. There was so much in her story that was too good to lose, but so many details Barbara realized she didn’t know. So as a lover of fiction, she decided to write a novel and make up stuff to fill in the gaps.

But she also did a ton of research. Among other resources, she was able to read her father’s contemporary letters to one of his close friends. The novel offers fascinating insights into some little-known aspects of life during the war, and the history of the progressive political movements in the 30s and 40s. The issues they struggled with then still have resonance today.


Early Praise for When It’s Over

“In extraordinary times, a single decision can mean the difference between life and death…When It’s Over brings the forces of history to a very human level.”—Booklist


“Barbara Ridley has the rare ability to take the life of a real person—her mother, a Czech Jew who fled Prague for Paris and finally England—fictionalize it, and end up with a character so fully realized that we care not only about the bigger backdrop of history but about her daily life and the lives of those who surround her. 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, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award and the California Book Award.


“A vividly realized story of wartime lives. This beautiful   novel weaves an enchanting path through bravery, sadness, unexpected love, and sparkling hope. An involving story, utterly convincing in its historical detail.  Barbara Ridley’s heartfelt wartime novel When It’s Over, will remind you of why you love reading.”

Amanda Hodgkinson, author of the NY Times Bestseller 22 Britannia Road.

“In Lena Kulkova, the reader finds an engaging, resilient character who comes of age amidst the turbulence, chaos, and devastation of 1930s and 40s Europe. She escapes to France and then, as the Nazis threaten, to England, but she is ultimately saddled with the torment of divided loyalties and the guilt of a survivor. 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, author of Even in Darkness, winner of the Sarton Literary Award for Historical Fiction.


 “A lively and compelling book which highlights many of the logistical and bureaucratic issues faced by refugees arriving in Britain, as well as the hardships of everyday life during WWII.”

—The Association of Jewish Refugees newsletter (UK)


“This fraught love story brings to life passionate, personal, and political struggles in the face of paranoia and prejudice in wartime England, struggles too easily forgotten in the received generalizations that often airbrush out the role of flesh and blood individuals in the broad sweep of history. 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.

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