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The Children's War: A Novel Hardcover – May 22, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
What if the Nazis had won WWII? This isn't the first time a writer has tried to visualize that possibility, but nuclear physicist Stroyar comes up with perhaps the most lavishly detailed scenario so far, realistically describing an alternate 21st century in her massive debut. The author, whose own family suffered under the Nazis, spent a decade on research and travel to Eastern Europe and areas of the former U.S.S.R. With frightening authenticity, she weaves a gripping page-turner that revolves around two men who strive to undermine the Nazi regime. First is Peter Halifax, an Englishman with multiple identities who was orphaned at a young age, adopted by the Underground, betrayed and then doomed to a life of abuse. Then there is Richard Traugutt, an ambitious Nazi official who secretly spearheads the Polish resistance movement's efforts to infiltrate the Third Reich and hasten its demise. When Peter miraculously escapes a life of tortured servitude to a ruthless Nazi official, he blunders into the Polish underground. As Peter and Richard's complex stories unfold, the author layers her fictional tale of modern-day life in the Third Reich with historical accounts of actual atrocities as well as the role of the Polish resistance movement during WWII. The most daring section of the book showcases the underground's plan to use Peter's tragic story as a means to gain support from the North American Union, the only free territory in the world. The author's uncompromising portrayal of an American public inured by evidence of atrocities and only interested in sensationalist personal revelations is a strong indictment of civilized society. Those entranced by what-if scenarios will find plenty to delight them in these pages.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Stroyar's debut, a "what-if" depiction of Europe after the Third Reich has won World War II, focuses primarily on Peter Halifax (as he is known in one of his many identities), a man arrested for having bad papers. He is subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and condemned to death, then reeducated and thrust into a life of abject slavery as part of a Nazi experiment. After years of degrading brutality at the hands of various masters, Peter escapes to the Underground, only to find himself under suspicion as a collaborator. Many heartrending moments follow in the battle against Nazi oppression. Though the pace of the last third occasionally slows and there may be comparisons to Robert Harris's Fatherland and Len Deighton's SS-GB, this is much more than a pat suspense novel or mystery; rather, it is an immensely assured and beautifully written work, remarkable for its nuanced characters, its insights into the subtleties of human relationships under stress, and its devastating portrayal of the horror of slavery and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming cruelty. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [The author is an American nuclear physicist living in Germany whose family members had been victims of slavery and concentration camps. Ed.] Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucso.
- Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
At its core, "The Children's War" is the story of Peter Halifax a victim of unspeakable Nazi brutality. After years of humiliation, servitude and beatings, he escapes to the Polish Underground; however, his hopes of a more simple, free, life are shattered as he faces the judgement of people who barely even understand what they are fighting for. That's where the novel gets its name, the resistance is fighting for something completely intangible, they are children who have never known freedom, or Poland, or justice, as anything other than a concept. In their quest for survival they have had to make so many compromises their resistance has become almost ritualized. Furthermore, their necessary isolation has calcified many of their views to the point where they are almost as prejudiced, although not as brutal, as the Nazis.
Therein lies the central dichotomy of the novel. Peter is appalled at the accommodations that the Poles have made with the Nazis in order to guarantee their survival. At the same, the Poles judge Peter for having done what he needed to do to survive, without having ever been in a similar position; always safe in their "Ivory Bunker". Ultimately, they are both right and both wrong; in a world of constant warfare, everything is shades of gray. The characters come to realize that humanity is something that you carry in your heart and your mind, not necessarily in your actions.
In terms of the narrative writing and characterizations, I was blown away. The writing was among the best I have ever encountered, which is all the more remarkable since the author is a first time novelist. In particular, Stroyar avoided the pitfall that many authors fall into when writing alternate history: to much information. All to often the authors feel the need to explain in painstaking detail how they arrived at the time the are writing about. Not so Stroyar, who clearly understands that a well drawn present with sufficient, but not overt, background information is more important than the reverse. Furthermore, Stroyar has a superb grasp of politics, both international and domestic. She understands perfectly the stasis that totalitarian regimes must inevitably fall in to, and the introverted inertia that so plagues democracies at peace.
The characters are brutally real, they exhibit an incredible range of emotion, and while not always sympathetic, they are always human. There were actually times when I had to stop reading this novel because it was just too gut wrenching. Of course I couldn't stay away for more than 15 minutes, but I have never been affected by a novel that way.
At this point it's fairly obvious that I loved this novel. "The Children's War" is a great alternate history, it is a great spy-thriller, but mostly it's just great literature. It is a work of tremendous depth and is profoundly moving. Not only does it entertain, but it makes the reader think; both about the world today, and about what might have been.. In the end, I can't say anything more than, "READ THIS NOVEL!" you won't regret it.
On both readings, the story pulled me in, the characters were gripping, and vision of a modern day Nazi dystopia in Europe was chillingly believable. If you're fascinated by alternate history, "The Children's War" (and it's sequel, "A Change of Regime") are well worth the time that it will take to read all 1150-odd pages.
Be forewarned: this book contains explicit descriptions of torture and some truly horrific violence. If that's going to bother you, you may want to take a pass on this book. Similarly, if you're looking for some upbeat reading, a book on life 60 years into a Nazi regime is probably not your best choice.
But if you're looking for a plausible telling of what a modern day Nazi Europe would be like, this book has it. Some reviewers have complained that this book is too dark, too negative...that the Nazis wouldn't be able to stay in power with a system that is as violent and corrupt as what is portrayed in this novel. I don't agree -- the fact is that the old Soviet Union lasted 70 years, so the idea that the Nazis could hold on for a similar length of time is distressingly easy to believe.
Another complaint was that the author didn't provide an explanation for why Hitler doesn't invade the USSR in her world -- but it is, in fact, there as a passing reference (in the form of advice from Hitler's astrologer).
The people to whom I have loaned these books first have the same type of reaction I did to the size. Thing is, once you start reading you will find them too short. I hope a third is written.