Hélène by Phillip Dobson


From the "WW2 Series, The Songs of War" series, volume 1
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A lyric soprano finds love, loss, and vengeance in this first installment of a World War II trilogy.

Opening in late 1937, this debut novel follows two opera singers as they live and work under the ever-tightening grip of the Nazi government. Peter Schweitzer, a lyric tenor, and Hélène, a lyric soprano, perform at the Nürnberg Theater, which stages Italian operas such as Verdi’s “La Traviata” in German. Peter feels torn between his dislike of Germany’s growing anti-Semitic policies, which affect his part-Jewish family as defined by the recent race laws, and his approval of the Nazi focus on the working man. But Hélène, a Belgian citizen who loves Peter and understands much more about politics than he does, knows trouble lies ahead, and tries to convince him to leave Germany with his family. War looms ever closer, and before long, the ugliness of Nazi rule reveals itself in shocking ways. Soon, Hélène and Peter begin working for the Resistance, but she quickly discovers that in the struggle against monstrous evil, becoming a monster may be the only way to fight. Appropriately, given the characters’ profession and the story’s historical backdrop, passions run high and melodramatic. But much of the dialogue remains stilted and overly emotional, veering between an abundance of exposition and plenty of exclamations and exclamation points (Hélène to Peter: “I won’t marry you because you can’t see the truth!). The novel becomes more restrained when chronicling the plot’s many horrific events—which include rape, torture, and a haunting glimpse into concentration camp life. By avoiding exploitation and colorful descriptions, the narrative effectively evokes the terror. In addition, despite the often florid dialogue, Dobson provides his many characters with numerous opportunities to express themselves through action, which keeps the plot moving at a swift, enjoyable pace. This helps overcome the book’s weaknesses, making it a qualified success for readers interested in historical dramas and wartime thrillers.

An operatic, if uneven, novel that offers a fast-paced plot and energetic characters.

Pub Date: May 26th, 2014
Page count: 402pp
Publisher: Dobson Ventures
Program: Kirkus Indie
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