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The English General (The Schellendorf Series) (Volume 3) Paperback – March 6, 2014
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About the Author
Lyn Alexander grew up in Ottawa, Canada during the war years and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force directly out of high school. She later resigned her commission to study veterinary medicine at the University of Guelph, Ontario. She has traveled much of Western Europe, the USA, and most of Canada, and speaks three foreign languages badly. She is today a practicing veterinarian in New Brunswick. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading The English General, by Lyn Alexander. It is the third novel in the Schellendorf series. This type of novel only works when done well, and in Ms. Alexander’s capable hands this one is a winner. No mean feat considering that I’m a very picky reader. The characters are very well-drawn, with complex internal and external conflicts. They change in credible ways and for plausible reasons.
I am not an expert, but I know much more about World War II and Nazi Germany than the average reader. Historical people and events are portrayed with authenticity and flow naturally within the plot. The story presents a point of view rarely addressed in literature regarding Germany in World War II and without being a justification of the Nazis.
While the plot was always believable, the events were not predictable. That makes for a very satisfying read indeed.
I’ve already started Book 4 of the series!
Moral ambivalence, degrees of "good" (and "bad"), and differing concepts of loyalty...plenty of agonizing reappraisals to go around. We've been examining such ambiguities at least since the Nuremberg trials--and since James Mason starred as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in the early 1950s movie, The Desert Fox.
Lyn Alexander now explores these issues in her historical novel, The English General (published in 2007). Her fictional Erich von Schellendorf has an additional source of ambivalence: he was born and raised an Englishman but became a German career officer even before World War I; by 1939, he is a general. As such, he contributes effectively to Germany's war effort even while seeking Hitler's death. Meanwhile, his private life is tortured as well. He has endured twenty years of a failed marriage--and "failed" is putting it mildly--and now falls in love with another woman; but the War forces them apart because she is English while he chooses to remain German. There are other, quite serious, complications in Erich's life, both personal and political, but it would be revealing too much of the book's plot for me to explain them here. I will say only that there is a case of espionage involved.
Dr. Alexander is well qualified to tell this story. She is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, with extensive experience living in post-WWII Germany; and she has obviously studied a lot of WWII history. Most interesting, while in Germany she became a friend of Rommel's widow, Lucie. (The fictional Erich von Schellendorf was also a friend of the Field Marshal.) In my view, Alexander is also something of a psychologist. She not only gives us an insightful and sensitive portrayal of Erich's wife, Britt, but of Erich himself. Empathy enables her to leap over gender obstacles to construct an in-depth portrait of a male protagonist; no mean feat. Erich and Britt's failed marriage is achingly real in the reader's eyes, and a dark mystery as well.
The story ends with some hints and even puzzles, none of them affecting the main plot and its denouement, but perhaps suggesting the sequel, which I certainly intend to read (A Good Soldier, 2009).
This is an exciting book, accurate in its portrayal of its real-life characters--top Nazis and top Army people alike--while its fictional people are real-to-life and well integrated into the history of Germany during World War II. I recommend it highly.
--Karl G. Larew, Ph.D.
The principal character, German General Erich von Schellendorf, was born in England but migrated to Germany at an early age. After fighting for the Kaiser in World War I, he stays in the army, and by the mid-1930s, he has risen to the rank of General and serves on the General Staff as a logistics expert. Schellendorf is married, but he and his wife have been separated for almost two decades for reasons that - like a good mystery - are only gradually revealed to the reader. The story begins on New Year's Day in 1939, with Germany poised to plunge the world into war. At a reception, Schellendorf is introduced to a young Englishwoman, Celia Ashton. It's literally love at first sight for the two, and they take full advantage of Celia's brief visits to Berlin. After Germany invades Poland, Celia and other British citizens must return home, but later Schellendorf receives some startling information about Celia that will haunt him for the duration of the war.
During the war, General von Schellendorf is responsible for logistics - the science of procuring military equipment and supplies and transporting them to the army units that need them. It's an impossible task, since Germany's industrial production never fully met the Wehrmacht's needs, even with the production of the captured countries and the work camps, but Schellendorf does a laudable job of stretching Germany's resources to supply the army. Even though Hitler was advised that Germany was not ready to go to war in 1939, he rebuffed these warnings and heaped his scorn on the logisticians and economists who urged caution and delay.
As a member of the German General Staff, Schellendorf is part of a group looking for an opportunity to stop Hitler. Eventually, as the war escalates, the members of the group realize that the only way to end the war is to kill Hitler. Schellendorf struggles with his oath of allegiance to Hitler while also being involved with the plot to kill or remove Hitler from power. Adding to the conflict is the fact that he is being blackmailed by the British to work as a spy for MI-6 to send secret information to them. All of this adds up to a first rate novel of wartime love and estrangement from the two women who Schellendorf loves, played out against a backdrop of huge battles that will determine Germany's fate. From the High Command meetings led by Hitler himself to the battlefields of Europe and North Africa, Schellendorf is there. If he survives the war, will he be recognized as a hero to the allies, or will he be facing the gallows at the Nuremberg Trials for war criminals?
"The English General" is one of the finest WWII historical novels that I've read. Ms. Alexander has managed to perfectly meet the requirements for a historical novel: thoroughly researched and accurate history combined with an interesting and appealing storyline. Most of the characters are real people. The fictional characters are flesh and blood people caught up in the events of the day.
In other WWII historical fiction novels that I've read, the principal characters were combat soldiers. Ms. Alexander has taken a different approach in "The English General." General von Schellendorf is a General Staff quartermaster responsible for supplying the German Army with all the supplies and equipment it needs to wage war. Although the world saw the German forces as well equipped and unstoppable, the author, through Schellendorf's eyes and ears, demonstrates that this was hardly the case, especially in the 1939-1940 German victories in Poland and France, where the Poles and British and French military forces were inexcusably inept and unprepared for war despite the clear warnings that Hitler was planning to conquer Europe to regain German supremacy and pride.
The fictional element of Ms. Alexander's novel is a marvelously told story of a good man torn between his oath, his honor, and his duty; and doing the right thing. Schellendorf is also torn between his love for two women - his wife Britt and Celia Ashton, a young Englishwoman with whom he has an affair in the days just before war breaks out.
"The English General" is the second book of a trilogy. One of my next reads will be the third book in the trilogy, "A Good Soldier," which begins a few months after the German surrender in 1945. I understand that the author is now writing the first book in the trilogy, a prequel to "The English General."
I've read some very good WWII historical fiction, and I have to rate "The English General" as one of the best written and most compelling novels that I've read in this genre or any other.