Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Night of Flames: A Novel of World War II by Douglas Jacobson

2 of 5 for the War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge
1 of 26 for the A to Z 2009 Challenge (country: Belgium)

genre: historical fiction
rating: 4/5

In Night of Flames, our two main protagonists are Jan and Anna - two Polish citizens in Poland at the beginning of the war. However, before we even meet them, this husband and wife are separated as Jan's career with the Polish military sends him to defend his nation from the invading German army and Anna is left in a country on the brink of catastrophe.

Because I don't want to spoil the story, I won't give too many details - but one important piece, which made the book incredibly interesting, is the fact that both of these main characters stumble into the resistance - in two different countries. Anna finds herself in occupied Belgium while Jan's experience with the Polish Cavalry is traumatic, to say the least, and leads him in a completely different direction.

And thus we switch back and forth between the two of them throughout the book as the war progresses and as each of them get deeper and more involved with the resistance. I appreciated seeing regular people choose to fight the Germans in any way they could, sacrificing just about everything they had, instead of sitting by and watching their country be torn apart. Certain scenes are very intense and the language of most of the soldiers was a bit much for me and almost felt inauthentic since the soldiers were nearly always speaking a language other than English. I recognize, however, that I have no idea of what it is like to be a soldier.

Different than most books I have read about the war, this novel certainly involves much more military history and strategy than I am used to reading. We, as readers, become active participants in the missions of the resistance and I grew to have so much respect for these citizen soldiers and the difference they made preparing the way for the Allies. I think the author did a fine job of making the more strategic sections readable for someone like me with essentially no military background. And while the characters aren't maybe as well developed as they could be, I didn't feel like it too detracted too much and the plot and history felt very well researched.

I recently learned that my Grandfather spent the bulk of his time in the war in Antwerp, Belgium (he was there for two years) and I was happy to find a book that gave me immense insight into the war years there. In fact, after reading, I called him (on his 93rd birthday, no less) and we had a long conversation about the book and I'll be sending my copy off to him shortly, as he'd like to read it.

While this is certainly a "war" book, at the heart of this novel is the decision of whether or not to follow in the footsteps of Anna, Jan, my grandpa and countless others, and put your life at stake for a greater cause than your own.


Anonymous said...

I find the resistance fascinating, so this sounds really good.

Heather J. said...

I love how you were able to connect with your grandfather over this book. My grandpa will be 91 shortly and his experiences on D-Day and after are the reason that I read so many WWII books. It's amazing to me what he lived through, and I want to understand as much of it as I can.

(here from the WWII Challenge blog)

Anna said...

Great review! I hope to read this one for the challenge myself. I enjoy stories about the resistance (well, enjoy isn't really the right word, but you know what I mean). Please let us know what your grandfather thinks about the book!

I've created a post for the review here on War Through the Generations and added it to the book reviews page as well!

Diary of an Eccentric

Marg said...

This is one of the books that I have on my list for the War Through the generations challenge as well.

Sandy Nawrot said...

This is going on my list (my goal is 10 books for this challenge, and I fear the list will be full in about 2 1/2 days). My husband and his full lineage is from Poland, so I am quite intrigued. Thanks for the review!

Trish said...

Sounds like an amazing book--especially how it brought about a moment for you and your grandfather.

Love the new look!!

Serena said...

great review..i like being behind the enemy lines with the characters. this sounds like a must read for the WWII challenge...I have to get going on that one.

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