A stirring historical novel that plumbs the depths of war for the possibilities of love.
Bruce (Voices in the Wind, 2015) sets her latest novel in the Soviet Union during World War II. Elena Nevskaya is a complex protagonist: a committed Communist, a devout Christian, and, despite her love of Russia, a political dissident who’s contemptuous of Bolshevism. Snatched from university life to serve as a medic in a war that’s already killed her husband and brother, she’s quickly forced to confront the bleakness of her circumstances. She witnesses unspeakable carnage and struggles with her simmering hatred for German invaders: “Yes, I did want my country to destroy the Germans. Yes, I did want the injured to live. But at what cost to me?” Transferred to a hospital on the front, and crushed by disillusionment, she rescues a wounded Nazi clinging to life. Although moved by sympathy to help him, she’s initially overwhelmed by disgust, seeing him as a personification of Nazi ideology. But Friedrich Halder turns out to be a university man, as well as a deserter who was conscripted into service in order to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. What improbably ensues is a mutual recognition of each other’s humanity, a kind of truce, and then the kindling of a romance. For fans of historical fiction or romance, this is a deft combination of the two genres, written in a wise, often poetical prose. The overall tale is dark and catalogs the murky depths of human depravity, but despite the realistic grittiness of its portrayal of war, it’s thankfully leavened by considerable doses of humor and hope. At its core, it’s a story about an attempt to maintain one’s humanity while witnessing, and even participating in, stark inhumanity. Elena and Friedrich fall in love, and in doing so, each concedes the other’s value.
An epic portrayal of a romance born out of the rubble of World War II.