Landrum’s debutnovel tells a World War II–era story of compassion and illicit love.
German Col. Erwin Schell is sent to occupied Holland in 1940 to persuade young Dutchmen that the Third Reich’s National Socialism is the supreme philosophy for the world: “[T]he democracies crumble like paper,” he says. He sets up his headquarters in a farmhouse occupied by Sophia and her son, who have been trying to cope ever since Sophia’s husband, Willem, went missing. Schell and his unit largely behave impeccably toward the local populace, although they do execute Resistance saboteurs. The narrative then jumps forward a couple of years, and it turns out that Willem has joined up with American forces training for the upcoming Normandy landings. In Holland, Sophia becomes closer to the German colonel, but she’s also leading a double life. Schell’s faith in the decency of the conquering German race is shaken by evidence of mass deportations of Jews and the death squads in Russia. At the same time, his devotion to Sophia is severely tested with the arrival of the SS, who are eager to inflict their own brand of education. “Pain forces the acceptance of reality,” says an SS officer. “Have you ever thought that people in pain are the only ones you can really trust?”The Allied forces slog through Europe and Willem joins the paratroop drop at Arnhem to get back to his homeland and family; his wish is fulfilled, but in a very different fashion than the way he’d planned. In this fine historical tale, Landrum tacks away from the usual formula of equating all Germans with Nazis. Elegantly written and interlaced with little-known facts, the novel effectively portrays the humanity of German officers. However, the plot does contain some very unlikely coincidences, particularly involving encounters between the main characters, which weaken this remarkable effort. There are also some flat emotional reactionsthat don’t always bring across the terror, shock and even joy that people may experience in wartime. However, the narrative tension is nicely handled, cranking up the pace and keeping the ending in doubt.
An uneven but often thought-provoking reflection on WWII history.