Novel: When It’s Over


The author’s mother in 1940

When It’s Over is a literary novel set in Europe during World War II. Coming of age in Prague in the turbulent 1930’s, Lena Kulkova 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 England, and is staying in a small Sussex village, sponsored by the eccentric Lady of the Manor. He urges Lena to join him, but she cannot obtain visa.

When Lena and Otto are finally reunited in England, they face anti-refugee sentiment and wartime deprivations, and their relationship becomes strained. Lena plunges into a new romance, and the progressive political movement that leads to the landslide defeat of Churchill in the 1945 election. But she’s desperate for news from her mother and sister. 

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.

NEWS FLASH!!!  When It’s Over short-listed for the Sarton Women’s Book Award in the Historical Fiction category

Sarton Book Awards Finalists 2018

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

“Romantic without triteness and intelligent without laboriousness, seeing When It’s Over appear as a BBC miniseries … wouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a sweet read, with thoughtful, touching storytelling to provide balm and resonance for our most human selves.”—Foreword Clarion Review

Read the full Clarion Review here

“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 brilliant novel….. a coming of age story about family, love, politics, grief, and hardship in a war-torn country.”—OnLine Book Club Review


“Barbara Ridley is a great storyteller with a unique gift for character and setting… The themes of family, war, love, solitude, and hope are beautifully woven into the fabric of this spellbinding story.. [which] will both entertain and inform readers about what it feels like to be a refugee.”—Readers’ Favorite Review


“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 haunting story of love and loss, politics and prejudice.“–East BayTimes


 “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.


“I’ve read a lot of historical fiction set in WW2…. it’s always refreshing to get a new angle and this novel delivers it….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.…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…..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.”—WhatCathyReadNext


“…it was intriguing, yet heartbreaking, to read about the war from the perspective of those who are safe but whose families are trapped.”—Historical Novel Society.

Readers Write:

“I can’t put it down”—Carol

 “I can’t remember the last time I read any novel I enjoyed so much… A story that kept me turning the pages, wanting more, never feeling didactic.”—JoAnne

“I just finished your novel and I have to tell you that I was swept away.”—Diane

“I can’t put the book down, nearly finished, & don’t want it to end!”—Linda

“This was a beautifully written and meticulously researched book that engaged me on so many levels”—Cathy

“A riveting read. I had a hard time putting it down.”—Nissa

“Historical fiction at its best”—Jayne

“Your characters are beautifully portrayed…well-developed, plausible, interesting real people”—Doug

“A beautifully told story which is both gripping and very moving” —Lucy

“Riveting and compelling” — Phillip

Reading Group Guide: Download PDF here