| Book Review |
The Constant Soldier – William Ryan

 

When Paul Brandt, to his knowledge the only survivor from his battalion, returns home from the front severely wounded, his town regards him as a hero. But Paul is wracked with guilt and will do anything to make amends, make it up to her, the woman he betrayed – he will even pretend to be a true Nazi. Will it save her?

| Introduction | 

German soldier Paul Brandt was forced to go into the army due to his political activities in Vienna, before the outbreak of WW2. The only other option was prison where she went, his co-conspirator and the love of his life, a woman only known to him by her codename. Their meeting was ambushed and he could do nothing but leave her to her fate. That is the last he has seen of her. Many a time appeared her face before him at the front, his guilt nagging. Could he have saved her? Now a wounded, one-armed hero, Paul returns to his home village in Upper Silesia. But all has changed.

| Storyline | 

Disfigured and dillusioned but a hero to the villagers, Paul has no choice and is dragged into the Nazi propaganda machine. He stands before young men, boys, and tells them about the glory of war and the faith in their leader. He feels hollow in motivating these youngsters to become soldiers but what can he do? If he renounces the Nazi ideology, it could well be that not only he himself but also his father and the rest of the family will face the consequences. When he walks past a fence, he notices a group of young women and he cannot believe his eyes when he thinks he recognises.. her. The one he loved and betrayed, the one he never thought he would see again. In that instant, Paul knows that he will do whatever it takes to help and rescue her. First, he must find a way into the building behind the fence.

The building is a rest hut for SS officers to provide them with luxury and entertainment on their breaks from their daily responsibilities of running the concentration camp just outside the village. Paul has no trouble being employed there – his reputation as a war hero precedes him. Little does he know what is going on but soon he will. His priority is to find her and protect her and the other women who are there to work in the officers’ retreat and who are at the mercy of the brutal SSers. The women live in constant fear, their lives worth nothing to the cruel SSers but their days might be numbered soon…  The year is 1944, the Russians are coming close but there are more dangers lurking in the woods. Paul comes to realise the precarity of the circumstances as chaos arises and the Russian underground movement (Polya Kolanka) closes in on the village and the Nazis staying there.

| My Thoughts | 

The Constant Soldier is set in the historical context of WWII and tells us about the atrocities of war and those in it from different perspectives. Not by showing us the concentration camps and their inexplicable horrors but by digging deep into the lives of those working there, of those who were part of the war machine. The infamous rest hut, where the SS officers could recuperate and what happened there… Harrowing. Paul Brandt is a man who struggles with his conscience, who has to live with the decisions he made. He is a character you have to empathise with – the way he struggles to keep sane, to keep human and to do right to others. But there are more characters, the woman he wants to save, his sister, the resistance group … all skilfully portrayed, true-to-life characters who struggle to keep sane and do what they feel is right under these difficult circumstances.

To have access to photos from an SS officer during WW2 and to create, based upon the images, this haunting and thought-provoking novel – I have got to hand it to William Ryan, brilliant. A well-written novel that will stay with you long after you closed the book, the insights into the ordinary people finding themselves in less than ordinary circumstances, the consequences of actions  – the pointlessness of war and the innocent victims it brings along, every time again. The fact that the novel is based on true events, the vivid descriptions and the insights into the Russian involvement (the chapters written from the perspective of Polya Kolanka) all combined make this a powerful novel and an emotive read.

| About the Author | 

William Ryan Author Image

William Ryan’s Captain Korolev Novels have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, the Ellis Peters and John Creasey Daggers and the Irish Crime Novel of the Year (twice). William teaches on the Crime Writing Masters at City University in London. The Constant Soldier has been described by AL Kennedy as “a nuanced, complex and gripping tale of guilt and love that captures the chaos at the end of World War Two”.

| Book Info | 

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 Paperback  400 pages
 Publisher  Pan (1 Jun. 2017)
 ISBN  978-1447255062
 Ebook  2296 KB, Mantle (25 Aug. 2016)
 ASIN  B01BYBZLUW

 

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