American soldier Tommy Flowers deals with his unexpected attraction to English Pvt. David Pearson and the horrors of World War I in this debut historical novel.
In June 1918, Flowers, newly arrived in France, follows Pearson from a tavern, apologizing for his fellow American soldiers’ anti-British remarks. The young men, both around 18, take shelter from rain in a stable. They hold each other for warmth, then report to their units in the morning. Tommy keeps seeking out his new friend and also befriends Jamie Colbeck, an older Australian assigned to American forces. He soon begins soldier duties in the trenches. Later, David stalks off when Jamie, who’s bitter about British bungling at Gallipoli, speculates how David’s soldier brothers really died in the war. Tommy again follows David, dodging dogs and a swooping airplane, and is drawn to kiss him. Still later, while helping Jamie clean up the tavern following a soldiers’ scuffle, Tommy and Nicole, niece of the proprietress, both virgins, run off to have sex, which displeases Jamie, who’s also attracted to Nicole. Then David is injured, and Tommy—unaware of his friend’s injuries—endures friendly fire in the battle of Hamel. Afterward, Jamie rewards Tommy with travel to London, where David is recuperating. Tommy accompanies David on the latter’s visit to his family, where they consummate their relationship, vowing love but also secrecy as they return to the front. They join up for a dangerous mission to transport an injured officer and, by novel’s end, experience more joy and ultimate heartbreak. Ringel packs a remarkable amount of flavor and detail into this debut work. In addition to providing a compelling love story, he serves up gripping depictions of the war’s horrible, often absurd battles and the male camaraderie and army bureaucracy that accompanied them. While some trysts stretch the imagination—lovemaking in an occupied ambulance?—Ringel has created an overall appealing romance with memorable characters, particularly open-hearted Iowan Tommy, “a lad who speaks his mind, and keeps the rest of us honest—maybe even human.”
Accomplished, touching historical fiction.