“One can never be sure of the end, only the means, and so we must be sure that the means are good. One can never be sure of the motives of anyone but oneself and those we can examine to ensure that they are pure. All that seems to be certain is that we should each do good where it is near to us, where we can see the end of it, and then we know that something positive has been done.”
from chapter one of Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
The novel is set in France in the years immediately after the Second World War, though the first chapter takes place early in the war. It involves a British man searching for the infant son he had to abandon shortly after his birth. He learned later that his wife was killed by the Gestapo, but he is chasing a lead to where his boy might be years after.
The quote is spoken by the wife of a friend of the protagonist. She worked in the Resistance (and may have been instrumental in saving the life of the sought-for boy) but she argued with her husband what had to be done to resist and still remain human. He, who admitted the necessity of sabotage and even murder, said her values were those of a saint and not of a human during an occupation.
I devoured this book in a couple of days, and I will certainly read it again, but I’m sure you can see how nicely it fits with my great theme of fathers and sons. The novel deals with things beyond the search, of course, such as duty and responsibility, self sacrifice and self indulgence, deceit and honor. If the very last sentence doesn’t rend your heart, you’re not human.
(Beware the movie version starring Bing Crosby. It was reviled by the author and while it is enjoyable doesn’t come close to touching on many of Laski’s themes in the novel.)