This story is founded historically off of events around the Western European front of World War II. It enticingly employs a technique called “triple narrative” in which the plot is told from three perspectives across varying timelines. Altogether, it mixes together several thematic tales – of love, of the horrors of war, of family, of Jewish and Christian identity, of women overcoming obstacles, and of the power of the individual in authoritarian regimes.
Runyan generally succeeds in this attempt – although she relies on a series of coincidences which seem improbable. It stretches the story’s credulity to think that these people would have stories set in California and Germany intertwine again and again over 60 years. That challenge is posited to the reader in the first three chapters as they open from varying points of view at varying points in time. Runyan mostly succeeds at that challenge, but there were a few times I thought, “Really? Still, this is a good story, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and continue.”
The three points of view are Max (a 1940s Jewish-American medic/dentist), Joanna (a 1940s German aeronautical engineer), and Beth (a recently divorced American professor whose father is sick and mother just died in 2007). By the end, these three stories converge, diverge, and converge again and again, like a winding river. Although that winding river was crossed literally in the book, that river also represents the plot techniques and wide berth of themes that the author presents.
The plot tells of Jewish struggles with the Third Reich, of an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life (which is grounded in historical fact), of love overcoming religious, national, and language barriers, and of the courage required to resist the use of oppressive power. It reminded me of the rise of authoritarianism in the contemporary world and the courage required in our world to prevent another Third Reich from recurring.
This book will hit a wide variety of audiences well: those who like unique narrative techniques, fans of World War II history, those who like stories of women’s empowerment, saps (like me) who like good love-and-family stories, and those who wrestle with political issues that undergird our modern global era. I write this review on the day that this book was released. Due to the skillful intermingling of all of these issues, I suspect it will garner a wide audience.