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The Second Ring Paperback – October 24, 2013
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About the Author
Anthony Kobal is a poet and playwright, living in New York. Author of many LBGT articles in print and online, this is his first novel, which has been nominated for a 2013 Lambda Literary Award.
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In that regard there are habitable sensations of being unsettled all the way through SECOND RING, as all was torn apart with a thread of familiarity and humanness somewhere sustained within; holding the world and personal movement at bay and in safety; and facing the walls of threat, isolation, and the unknown life and death of self continuously. This uncertainty reflects and asserts the personal trauma apart from and inclusive of the estrangements or persons and nations, as well as the wonders. awe. and physicality of a powerful and aggressive war, and a war torn Europe, of surviving under any circumstances, not just these.
This was when anyone and everyone would have most likely wanted to run, killing everyone on both sides to blot out everything but didn't, or to commit suicide, quite simply. This was when the fear of annihilation in the years before Axis and Allied powers even began to get a grip on themselves, to be sustained, to know who the enemy was, themselves or the other, or of the separating magnitude of the opposing Other and how much alike we might be. Albeit we all know 'War stories," nothing about The SECOND RING reeks of formula or familiarity to anything known to me in the Western World, a lonely irksome place to live then, and sometimes now:
All was unexpected and unusual, and while it was more than a mystery, even whimsical and unlikely in usual terms, I am mystified at how the whole thing simply rose up and out of the brilliance of the author, how anyone could have taken a chance on love and loving in the center of so many Hells, not a perfect love and loving, but sought and imagined still. I resigned myself very naturally to 'I just don't know...." about any and all of it, of "emptying and allowing" as I would say. There was no alternative to what was presented: everyone was stuck in the chaos surrounding them, and anything that evidenced a fragrance of redemption within is noted.
I imagined it taking decades to weave the ordinary histories and lives of so many in this book, and in one's imagination and mind, and of these main characters with the totally unorthodox: the love relationship that had barely started in the most harsh of circumstances in an even darker world than the apocalyptic collapse of economies, and familial or personal lives of the world Depression: in some ways it is difficult to describe The SECOND RING in usual literary terms. And by the nature of one's expectations when reading if one has them, something will seem remiss: that it is not the display or the story by itself, but it is the dynamics that tell this Truth.
In part this is because there is nothing about this book from the very first pages which could be suspected, expected, or anticipated: the mechanizations of the war and of the Enigma of war: the back story, the history and settings in a part of the European Continent and Scandanavian peninsulas in an epoch almost surreal in its realty and presentation even to supposed knowledgeable persons, and foreign to the mainstream. From out of 'nothing," the author has literally created something far more than anything that pummels us with history or facts which the author is capable of, but does not,.but which illuminates us to the reality that real persons and real lives were lost and unaccountable everywhere; impossible situations contained within other impossible situations, and somehow the human story is revealed.
read about a part of WW II that is not really covered in history books, that is, the German occupation of Norway.
The title itself is a clever one, and has two meanings to it. For me, the book was also about illusions, both military
and sexual. All in all, this was a fine, gripping read.
In his inaugural novel, Kobal most successfully spins a historically correct M/M romance around Hitler’s attempt to build an atom bomb, and the Norwegians’ efforts to thwart the Fuhrer’s ambition.
As his lead character, the author gives us Axel, a young, gay, up and comer in the German military, circa 1941.
Axel’s story of wartime horror and love is liberally flavored with historical military, musical and culinary details. Kobal credits his spot on period research to the book, Blood and Water: Sabotaging Hitler’s Bomb, as well as to the dozens of websites that detail the minutiae of the German military, and its operations, in the 1940s.
The author also acknowledges the motion picture, The Heroes of Telemark. That 1965 movie, directed by Anthony Mann, and starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris, was an embellished retelling of the men who sabotaged the Norwegian heavy water plant, near the village of Rjuken, in order to thwart Hitler’s attempt to develop the Atomic Bomb. Some of Telemark’s scenes were filmed at the Norwegian plant that is the setting for much of The Second Ring.
We meet Axel as a young man. Scant pages later, he becomes the sexual slave of a bizarre and sadistic baron, who makes him pretend to be a dog – nude and on all fours. This skewed sexual scenario continues for a long while – with Axel eventually being joined on the leash by his school days nemesis, Bruno.
Eventually, the baron tires of Axel, giving him his upright walking papers. Axel is quickly recreated as a leader of the Fatherland’s elite Falshirmjager paratroopers, occupying Norway, in 1941.
Devoted to his men, Axel earns their dedication and respect, oftentimes saving lives when his men’s parachutes fail to open. Despite camaraderie and devotion, the Germany military in general, and the Falshirmjager paratroopers in particular, are no places for the love that dare not speak, or even stage whisper, its name.
Kobal’s novel goes into high gear when Axel’s contingent is assigned to the aforementioned heavy water plant in rural Norway. Their job is to facilitate Hitler’s development of an Atom Bomb , while simultaneously saving the plant from the Norwegian Nationals who seek to destroy it.
Most inconveniently, Axel falls in love with, and becomes obsessed by, Klaus, a Norwegian National. To Axel, Klaus is nothing short of a blond god from the North, the poster boy for all things desirable and erotic. Axel’s obsession with Klaus is especially dangerous because the Norwegian National is his political enemy, as well as his lover.
Making matters worse, Axel’s old enemy Bruno shows up as commander of a communications squadron. And don’t you just know: Axel’s longtime rival sets his sexual cap for Klaus.
And then there’s Mauritz. He operates The Enigma, the German encryption machine. The officer is quite an enigma himself – regularly touching himself inappropriately in front of Axel. Eventually, Mauritz drops his draws for Axel, and we learn the self-touching results from the world’s most extreme case of jock itch, and not from some suppressed homosexual desire.
Kobal doesn’t shy away from scenes of detailed man on man sex. Au contraire, he glories in them. His graphic sex scenes tend to be pages, not paragraphs, in length.
The Second Ring is a highly entertaining read, spiced with verifiable historical detail. In Kobal’s case, the first time is the charm. I award four out of five stars to this effort.
So not a spoiler, dearreaders: In the end, those seeking to sabotage Hitler’s development of the Atom Bomb are successful. If they had not been, you would be reading this review in German.
As for the fate of Kobal’s fictional lovers, they are not a matter of historical fact. Just remember, things never go smoothly, or end well, for star-crossed lovers – most especially when they are of the same gender in a gay hostile environment. As for Axel and Klaus’s ultimate fate, that’s for this reviewer to know, and for you, the reader, to discover.
Link to online version: [...]
The book starts off with some great insight into pre- WWII Germany, noting that it was impossible for men to love men openly. Then it goes through a description of the MC becoming involved with a guy who takes naked boys to parties on leashes. OK then.
So the rest of the book is like that - it goes on for quite a while just describing the MCs military life, the he meets this guy, and then it's more sex scenes. I liked some of them but found some of them cold and dispassionate, and the romance itself (if that is what this is) also never really clicked. The characters weren't developed enough.
The ending is one of those that will have you wondering if you are missing pages.
I really think he could do without the purple prose and outrageous sexual antics in wartime historical novels. It just didn't fit for me at all. I felt like I was reading two different books. But I think this author is quite talented with historical content.