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With Memorial Day just past, perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves of the sacrifices made by the soldiers and citizens on both sides of any conflict. War is not kind to anyone and World War II was a conflict of such proportions it left no part of the world unscathed. Two superb writers have produced new novels that look at some of the lesser-known aspects of the war that changed the world. Hearts of the Fathers by Darryl Harris looks at the war primarily through the eyes of German civilians and a Jewish Russian soldier. A. L. Sowards treats the reader to Defiance seen from the viewpoint of an American soldier, born in Germany.
HEARTS OF THE FATHERS by Darryl Harris
War is a time of loss and confusion. During World War II people in Germany mysteriously disappeared, however, people weren’t the only losses encountered. The Nazis hoarded art work, gold, jewelry, antiques, books, and even the genealogical and parish records of the various churches. When the war ended, the Russian Army attempted to discover the valuables hidden away by the Nazis with the intent of carrying them off to Russia. In Hearts of the Fathers by Darryl Harris the story is told of Mission President Erick Ranke’s quest to discover the hidden records, micro film them, then return the originals to the various churches. He also plays a key role in protecting and preserving the people who turn to him for help.
Levi Zuckerman is a Russian soldier, one of those who were first to enter Berlin in the closing days of the war. He’s a Jew who as a young boy was sent to Russia by his parents to keep him safe. Now as an adult and an officer, he is hoping to find his parents.
Gerda Brendler’s five-year-old son was taken from her by the Nazis to be raised as a Nazi and perpetuate the Aryan so-called master race because of his blond hair and blue eyes. Her husband who was conscripted into the Army died in battle and it is the hope of finding her son that keeps her going.
Gerda, Erick, and Levi cross paths when Levi rescues her from his commanding officers, nearly killing them in the process. Levi and Gerda go into hiding. While hiding they assist Erick in his search for the missing records and continue their own personal searches.
Harris has done an excellent job of portraying believable characters while showing some of the horror that accompanied the war. Rape, starvation, intimidation, and murder ran rampant through Berlin. The once beautiful city was ravaged by bombs during the war, but wanton destruction continued afterward as many of the Russian soldiers wanted revenge for the horror inflicted on their country earlier by the Germans.
This story contains some violent scenes, though they are handled well and I didn’t find them offensive except as a reminder that humans are capable of acts of depravity. The greater emphasis is on the various characters’ quests to find loved ones and to find the hiding places of extremely valuable birth, marriage, and death records. The major characters are fictional, but major historical figures appear as they did during this time period. Fans of historical and military novels will particularly enjoy this high action drama based on real events.
Darryl Harris is the author of six historical novels. He grew up in Idaho, graduated from Brigham Young University and served a mission to South Korea. He owns a magazine publishing business in Idaho Falls that publishes specialty magazines. He is married and he and his wife have five children.
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HEARTS OF THE FATHERS by Darryl Harris, published by Walnut Springs Press, 318 pages, soft cover $17.99.
DEFIANCE by A.L. Sowards
“Sometimes survival is the ultimate act of defiance” is the theme of A. L. Sowards’ latest novel Defiance which takes place during World War II. It’s the story of a young man, Lukas Ley, who is in his last year of high school, his induction into the Army, and his subsequent involvement in his unit’s defense against a massive German offensive that leaves him a prisoner of war.
Lukas’s family emigrated from Germany to the United States when he was a ten-year-old boy. He grew up with a deep hatred of the Nazis who were responsible for his father’s death and the loss of his older brother’s leg. At eighteen he can’t wait to become an Air Force pilot. His dream of flying is dashed when his physical exam reveals his poor eye sight which leaves him no choice but infantry. It’s hard to leave his mother and his girlfriend, though he doesn’t see his girlfriend often. Her father is opposed to their relationship because of his German heritage.
Training is difficult and he often encounters prejudice both due to his German background and his Mormon religion. The letters he and his girlfriend exchange are his greatest source of strength. In time not smoking and his ability to speak German become advantages as he can trade or share cigarettes for food or information and he can eavesdrop or communicate with the enemy.
Sowards has a particular talent for getting inside her characters’ heads, then sharing their thoughts, fears, prejudices, moral struggles, and hopes. She shares somewhat William Faulkner’s talent for providing understanding for the actions of even the villains or negative characters without white-washing evil or aggrandizing it with crude language. Both major and minor characters are distinctive and realistic. The maturing process is gradual, but definite, as Lukas changes from boy to man. In many ways, this maturing process, though, subtle is the major focus of the story. It shows how Lukas changes from a cocky boy eager to do heroic things, the changes he faces and the sacrifices he makes, his self doubts and sense of failure, to his understanding of what survival alone means. The story arc for each of the major areas of the story are set nicely and converge to provide a satisfying conclusion.
This story shows careful attention to historical realities and detailed research of the time period, military protocol and actions, social mores, and the geographical realities of the various areas depicted in the story. Some of the details of battle and of a German prison camp are more harsh and violent than some readers will find comfortable, but are realistic and never unnecessarily graphic. I recommend Defiance to anyone who enjoys historical novels, war stories, novels of self-recognition, low key love stories, action books, or almost any type of well-written, compelling novel.
A.L. Sowards grew up in Moses Lake, Washington. She graduated from Brigham Young University. She is married and she and her husband are raising their children in Utah. Defiance is her sixth novel.
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DEFIANCE, A World War II Story, by A. L. Sowards, Published by Covenant Communications, 310 pages, soft cover $17.99. Also available for eReaders and audio CD.