Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase/L.A Witt
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 11/23/2015
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Historical
In Nazi-occupied Paris, most Frenchmen tread warily, but gay nightclub singer Yves Lacroix puts himself in the spotlight with every performance. As a veteran of France’s doomed defense, a survivor of a prison camp, and a “degenerate,” he knows he’s a target. His comic stage persona disguises a shamed, angry heart and gut-wrenching fear for a sister embedded in the Resistance.
Yet Yves ascends the hierarchy of Parisian nightlife to become a star, attracting the attention—and the protection—of the Nazi Oberst Heinrich von Starck. To complicate matters further, young foot soldier Falk Harfner’s naïve adoration of Yves threatens everything he’s worked for. So does Aryan ideologue von Grimmstein, rival to von Starck, who sees something “a bit like a Jew” in Yves.
When an ill-chosen quip can mean torture at the hands of the Gestapo, being the acclaimed Nightingale of Paris might cost Yves his music and his life.
This is wartime fiction at its haunting, emotional, frightening, and hope-filled best. I was entranced and felt like I was walking around in a dream while still awake, adrenalized. I never knew moment to moment what was coming…
Yves looked at the cap, abandoned, possibly the last thing of the dying or dead man he’d ever see, yet real and menacing like a nightmare before waking.
A thriving, never sleeping kind of fear that surely every single person under Nazi occupation felt, carrying it around all day, every moment, all through the night. Every decision is colored by that fear, a choking layer covering the surface of everything seen and unseen, real and surreal, the greatest power alive, infecting both the waking and the dead. What to do then, when a German soldier stumbles, unwanted and unexpected, into the precarious existence of a Parisian native? This question is posed over and over again throughout this story, in so many ways, and answered in just as many, still leaving me with no idea where things were going or how they’d end up. I mean. Just. That ending. I sat on my couch, my hand covering my mouth in disbelief. It then took me two days to process this experience. And two more in an attempt to come up with a review that made some kind of sense.
Here’s what I came up with. Let’s see how well or not I did.
It’s a tricky thing, slowly building the scene while simultaneously creating a constant hum of tension and fear. That’s what happened here, from the opening scene. It never stopped, not the entire way through this story. And I never wanted it to end despite my guts taking on more than a passing resemblance to a mariner’s knot and my heart imitating the longest marathon being run at full speed.
Nothing from history is ignored, or treated with kid gloves, nothing glossed by using the advantage of time passing and memories growing old. These kinds of stories never grow old. I don’t think we could ever have too many stories about the human experience during WWII. Survival. Death. Suffering. Stillness. Love. Hatred. Caring. The complexity that is the human being, especially in long term states of heightened fear and uncertainty, is on full display here.
Lighter moments aren’t left out, displayed against the backdrop of death and its constant threat, hope and love and determination still fighting for their rights, too. Voinov maintains the delicate balance, juggling of them all with an honest mix of confidence and reverence and fear. The main portrayal comes in the form of Yves Lacroix, the main character, the one through whom I experienced all of these things.
Voinov’s well-known ability to manipulate language is unfettered, unbridled, running free but with control. He finds all of the right words, sliding and slipping and snapping them into place, like they’ve all been patiently awaiting their turns, knowing their fate and playing the roles to perfection. For me, that translates into being carried away and surrounded and surprised by them, jolted and prodded and seduced over and over again.
Yves shivered at the intensity in the blue eyes, just the proximity of him. By all rights, this man shouldn’t take up space the way he did, like he had branches and roots that were a thousand meters deep.
Each time something good was happening to Yves, or between he and Heinrich, or with Falk, or any of his friends, or family, the fear and the worry remained my companions, never leaving me alone. Ever. I worried that, at any moment, something could and would detonate, killing the happiness, no matter how secretive or well-planned. I worried every time that a trap was surely being laid, that this happiness was that candy from a stranger. But it was never a stranger, the danger always known and the candy the wild card. Never reliable. Never predictable.
Predictable! That word doesn’t exist, not in this universe, banished to a galaxy far, far away. I never knew what to expect. I only knew to never expect.
Rebellion. It took place in every form, in countless places and just as countless ways, with whatever tools could be found and exploited. Yves is no obvious rebel, no self-proclaimed hero. He’s self-possessed, hopeful, terrified, and even experiences exhilaration in rare moments of what he’d probably call stupidity, certainly not bravery. He wasn’t innocent or naïve, but he also wasn’t at all averse to playing the ignorance game and trying to forget the incomprehensible horror going on around him, near and far, from his city, his home. There is so much more I want to say here but I don’t want to give anything away, nothing, none of the emotion and experience this story will give you.
The surprises are constant, all of them character driven. That’s what this entire story is, all about the characters. No huge battles, no majorly gruesome acts of terror, nothing overly graphic or grand. It’s all local, all ground level, the fear and intimidation and overwhelming uncertainty dwell in the cafes and clubs and flats and on the streets. It’s Paris deep into WW II. And I felt like I was there, unable to escape, whether from circumstance or the way I felt about a character, or the way it changed me or changed them. I couldn’t stop wanting the experience. There is one character in particular about whom I could never decide if he was living breathing joy or a harbinger of destruction. Maybe both? Only the end, the very last scene, provided my answer.
You guys should see the pages of notes I’m not including here LOL, they are copious, and rambling, and I love every word. I just won’t subject you to even more of them. Instead…
… they were masters of their technique who struggled and refined and strove even harder to tear themselves open wider so the voice could ring out louder and truer, like bleeding notes upon the air.
This is how I felt during and long after my reading of this story.
Despite all of the heaviness I’ve described here, and as I mentioned earlier, there are some light moments. I did smile, more than once, my heart expanding, open and ready to receive whatever was thrown my way.
This is a gorgeous, complicated, mind-bending story, with few easy answers, just like life, and certainly like Paris and all of occupied France in WWII. If you know history (and, frankly, I hope everyone does), it adds so much to what you’ll feel as you read this. Voinov has conveyed a story through some dozen characters that forces emotion to the surface, never letting go, unrelenting, and it held me in its clutches from word one until those two words we all dread: The End.
I would like to thank the author for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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