The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a book that fell from nowhere and blew me out of the water.
It's 1939 in Vienna, Austria, and the residents of a large, rambling apartment building are uneasy. The professor's dog has been violently killed, and a number of murders in the area seem to share the same hallmarks. Across the yard the professor's niece, the doctor, the janitor, the drunk's daughter, the trumpet player, and the clown all stare and wonder. Who is responsible? Who will be next?
When the police start nosing around, the tension mounts, and loyalties will not last long under the pressure.
More than a mystery, this book examines the atmosphere of suspicion in a country ruled by the Nazi party. How can anyone feel safe when the people in charge are wolves in military uniforms?
For another exploration of living in Europe during World War II, continue reading below.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The book as it stands is 2 parts of a planned 5-part novel about WWII from the point of view of the French.
The first part, "Storm In June," tells the story of several people fleeing Paris as German troops approached. It flips from one perspective to another, giving a broad understanding of the chaos, and analyzing how differences in class and social standing affect how we think of our neighbors when faced with a potentially life-or-death situation.
The second part, "Dolce," takes place in an occupied village in the countryside. The villagers, the farmers, and the Viscount and Viscountess, are all initially horrified to be hosting German troops, and yet the longer they stay the more complicated the relationships become.
Némirovsky, born in Russia but having lived in France most of her life, was considered Jewish by the Nazis, though she was a converted Catholic in practice. She was eventually arrested and taken to Auschwitz and a gas chamber. This tragedy is why the book is truncated from its planned 5-part arc.
At the end of the book you can read some of the correspondence among the author, her husband, and others trying to figure out what was going on, and trying to free her. There are also notes she had written, plans for the unwritten sections of the book.
The way she tells the story is straightforward, and from the perspective of the characters involved. While it's not "historical" as such, because
Némirovsky was on the ground in France experiencing the beginnings of WWII, it is for us a window onto the fear and confusion of those times.
It's a perceptive and beautiful novel.
To request and read either of these titles, click the links or the cover images above.
Review by Danny Hanbery