In this Rickson’s engaging, if somewhat clichéd, debut novel, a young American man is separated from his German lover at the outbreak of World War II.
In 1939, with the Third Reich’s ascendancy well under way, Frank Eberhardt is sent to a chemical plant for work experience in Bremen, Germany. On arrival, the Pennsylvania-born student experiences Nazi brutality at street level, witnessing young men of the Hitler Youth harassing an old Jewish man adorned with the Star of David on his sleeve. In contrast, Frank also experiences the warmth and hospitality of the German people, and he soon falls in love with an 18-year-old German law student named Helga. When Europe goes to war, Frank is forced to return to America, where he joins the Air Force. He trains as a navigator on a Flying Fortress before being posted to England on his first tour of duty as America enters the war. Based in Norfolk, Frank takes part in many key bombing runs, where he witnesses the horror of seeing his fellow airmen maimed or killed. The novel also focuses on how Frank comes to terms with living in the unfamiliar surroundings of rural England, and how the locals perceive him off base. Despite courting the attention of English girls, Helga never leaves Frank’s mind. He wonders about her fate, imagining with jealousy that she may have married another man or, worse, been killed by the Allied bombing of Bremen. Becoming a respected and decorated airman, Frank is also involved in the rebuilding of Germany as the Third Reich falls. The “boy meets girl, boy loses girl” plotline is rather worn-out and may prove too predictable for some readers, especially because depictions of air raids lack dramatic intensity and the sex scenes rely too much on coyness. Nevertheless, this charismatic and well-paced novel will lure readers into caring about Frank and Helga’s fate. Furthermore, on account of his thorough research, the author succeeds in painting a fascinating picture of prewar Germany and wartime England.
Few surprises yet discreetly intriguing.