Saturday, April 26, 2008

Resistance

Really good alternate history does more than simply speculate about one or two of the limitless “what if” possibilities offered by the past. In the best writing of this type those “what ifs” are just starting points for stories that go well beyond the big picture to consider what the historical changes would mean to ordinary people caught up in their wake. Resistance, Owen Sheens’ debut novel, does exactly that, and does it remarkably well.

What if the allied invasion of France had been repelled by a German army fully prepared to meet the invaders on the beaches of Normandy? What if that failed invasion resulted in such a devastating defeat for the Allies that Germany was almost immediately able to land her soldiers on England’s southern coast and begin a march to London?

The women of the isolated Olchon Valley of Wales did not even have time to wonder “what if” before they woke up one morning to find that every one of their husbands and sons had vanished, leaving behind nothing to indicate where they had gone or when they might return. But Maggie, oldest of the women, knew in her heart that the men would be gone for a long time when she saw that her husband William had left their cows un-milked, something he had never done in all their years together. She was able to convince the rest of the women that their husbands had joined the resistance, something they hardly dare speak of even among themselves, and that it is their duty to work the farms on their own while their men were away.

And that is exactly what they try to do until a small German patrol suddenly appears in the valley on a mission of its own. Despite the women’s efforts to disguise the absence of the valley’s men, Captain Albrecht Wolfram quickly reaches the correct conclusion that the women are alone and that their husbands are involved in fighting the German invasion. Albrecht knows that he should report the situation to his superiors but he realizes that, if he does so, everyone in the valley will be killed as an example of what will happen to the families of others who join the underground resistance. Albrecht has already seen the worst that war has to offer and he does not have the stomach to cause the deaths of these innocent women. He, in fact, realizes that his patrol has dropped through the cracks of the German command and decides to keep his men safely in the valley long after their initial mission has been completed.

When harsh winter weather sets in, making it impossible for the soldiers to leave the valley even if they want to, both the women and the soldiers come to realize that they must depend on each other for survival. The women grudgingly reach the conclusion that their resistance is no longer possible. Out of necessity the two groups learn to accommodate each other and over the long winter months personal relationships change to the point that both sides almost forget that they are at war with each other. What they have in common is more important than their differences.

But seasons change, and winter is always followed by spring. Warmer weather opens the valley to the outside world again and the realities of life under a ruthless occupying force. Are the women in more danger from German reprisal or from their neighbors who see them as collaborators? Should they have done more to resist the valley’s invaders? What will their husbands think of them? Those are just some of the questions that readers will ponder long after they turn the last page of Resistance.

This one is not to be missed.

Rated at: 5.0

10 comments:

  1. Ah, I loved this one too, Sam - well worth the read...and the "scenery" is amazing!

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  2. you don't give out a 5 that often, so I know what I must do...

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  3. I just skimmed your post as I have this one to read, too. I keep looking longingly at the books I've recently bought (this being one) and wanting to start it. If only I could read faster....or had more time...I'm glad you liked it, though. It will be worth the wait.

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  4. Oh, this one is definitely on the list now. I watched a program the other night about the British evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII and the question came up about the direction the war would have taken had the British and the "little ships" been unable to evacuate so many of the British troops during Operation Dynamo in 1940. Coming right on the heels of that program, Resistance is a book I don't want to miss.

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  5. It is a good one for sure, Wendy, maybe my favorite of the year to this point.

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  6. I'm on a pretty nice run of enjoying books lately, bybee, but not all that many of those have earned fives...I really liked this one.

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  7. Danielle, I do think you'll enjoy this one. There's a lot to think about as the characters evolve over time and as a result of contact with each other. It would make a great book club selection.

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  8. Jenclair, I'm a sucker for alternate history, especially the more kind that doesn't stray all that far from fact. This one is definitely a nice blend and it made me wonder how close to reality it really was. My dad was part of the D-Day invasion and, at 86 years old, has talked more about it in the last year than all the years before. That was certainly a pivotal moment in WWII.

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  9. An Anita Shreve book entitled "Resistance" is one of my favorite books of all time. Also takes place during WW2 but is not alternate history. Set in Belgium, an American pilot is shot down and rescued by the local resistance movement. Try it!

    By the way, this time last week I was standing on Omaha Beach in Normandy. What a moving experience. Haunting. And my visit to the American Cemetery just made me weep.

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  10. JoAnn, thanks for the tip about Shreve's book. I'll definitely look for that one because it sounds like a good one.

    I know what you mean about the Normandy experience. I walked Omaha Beach and Utah Beach in 1998 and will always remember the experience. My father was one of the lucky ones who landed at Utah Beach and survived the whole war, ending up in Leipzig, Germany at the end of the whole thing.

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