As World War II threatens to tear his country apart, a young Dutchman sails for America in this debut novel.
Emile van Driel twists the dials on his old radio to hear the “volume and hysteria” of an “upstart leader of the fledgling Nationalist Socialist Party” letting loose a volley of threats. A simple farmer from rural Netherlands, he senses darkness on the horizon and begins to prepare accordingly. Despite some skepticism from his wife, Helme, he arranges for their son, Johan, to set sail for the safety of America. Johan is 20 years old when he boards the Swift as a crew member—“young and inexperienced” for his age. His first days at sea prove a baptism by fire. Hampered by seasickness and lampooned by his crewmates, he learns that he must fight to make his mark on the world. During shore leave in Vancouver, he sees a sailor get his throat cut. Later, after finding bar work in New York, Johan shows his mettle by defending a tavern girl who has been set upon by a lecherous sea captain. The young man grows strong bodied and savvy as his journey progresses. Leaving the city, he secures a job working on an Amish farm until complications require him to again move on. His wanderings lead him across the United States before finding his true love, Emma van der Poole, his future wife, with whom he sets sail for Australia. As the momentum of World War II intensifies, Johan finds himself joining the U.S. Marines, taking his first tour of duty in Japan before returning to Europe. The unexpected introduction of a German sniper, Gunther Klause, adds a wicked twist to the narrative. Podbury is a skilled and intuitive writer. At times, his descriptions are painfully visceral: “The marine beside him screamed hideously as a burst of automatic fire laced his chest and the water by his side, effectively cutting him in half, and he fell forward into the breakers, his severed arteries bloodying the water around his still twitching corpse.” Yet the author is equally adept when penning Johan’s poignant letters home: “My dearest wife, I fear for my soul, if a man’s soul is what he truly is.” This is a detailed and emotionally sensitive account of a solitary man’s coming-of-age and his fight to stay alive for his family that should appeal to fans of war fiction and romance alike.
A dazzling war tale; fast-paced, gut-wrenching, and laced with uncertainty.