As war's red storm rages over England, Dominic Benson and Saba Tarcan confront love, life and death in Gregson’s (East of the Sun, 2009, etc.) latest historical fiction.
It’s no longer Chamberlain’s “phony war.” Dom has been shot down, suffering facial burns and, despite his French mother’s fears, is ratcheting up nerve to fly again. Saba, a talented singer, defied her Turkish engineer father and her subservient Welsh mother and auditioned for the Entertainments National Service Association. Dom first meets Saba, a woman “like electricity,” when she performs at his hospital. Entranced, he appears at her London ENSA audition. In an intimate cafe conversation, romance begins. As Rommel prepares to attack Egypt, Saba is sent to entertain troops in North Africa. Dom, recuperated, wrangles assignment to the Desert Air Force. Deepening the narrative are Arleta, a thoroughly theater-oriented, song-and-dance good-time girl; Janine, a prim, unfriendly, obsessive ballerina; Ellie, once a Paris model, now a costumer; Capt. Furness, ENSA's military martinet; and Cleeve, a languid Bond-type operative undercover as an armed forces radio network producer. The narrative is in full bloom before Dom and Saba once again meet after a long separation, but no wartime romance is without rigors. Cleeve enlists Saba to connect with a rich nightclub impresario, Zafer Ozan, half-Turk, half-Egytian. The ultimate goal is to sneak a German deserter out of Istanbul. Romance may be the theme, but Gregson shines in her descriptions of the life of the rich, poor and combatant in Cairo and Alexandria, the sights of Giza and the Bosphorus, and the chaotic World War II milieu where women no longer tolerated “boys making all the rules.” Saba and Dom love, face perils, triumph and intermittently reunite. Spare of any serious, distracting anachronisms, the story flows at a stately pace to a conclusion both satisfying and open-ended. Fans will want a sequel.
Historical fiction as personal journeys through love and loss and war’s havoc.