Friday, November 15, 2002

His Watchful Eye: German Christians During World War II

His Watchful Eye, Jack Cavanaugh's sequel to the Christy-Award winning While Mortals Sleep, begins three years after the first book ends, in the fall of 1943, and continues until the war's end in April 1945. This story has a decidedly darker tone. Though Hitler reigned in the first book, Berlin had not yet seen the devastation of war and harder times. Now young German men march through Russia, terrorizing peasants and slogging through winter mud. Berlin, too, is a bombed-out shell of its former greatness.

Josef Schumacher, the main character in the first book, has only a minor role now. Three years after his torture at Hadamar, where the Nazis cruelly experimented on his body, Josef is now a shell of a man, slowly dying. The young people he once pastored now take on primary roles, and we get a glimpse of life as experienced by Konrad, Lisette, and Ernst. Konrad quickly becomes disillusioned by the war in his infantry experiences on the Russian front, where his friend Neff soon dies. Ernst works as a research scientist, enjoys testing rockets and is acquainted with Von Braun. Lisette stays with Mady and Joseph, caring for several misfit, handicapped children at their "Ramah Cabin" in the countryside near Berlin. Konrad in particular changes his views, providing lots of angst (for the reader as well as other characters) as the former killer determines a new, non-violent approach. But just how far can or should he take his new vow to never again kill, when he also needs to protect his friends?

The 1989 Prologue story continues from the first book, tantalizing the reader with a few more clues to the characters' future fate. The prologue also makes more sense after reading the full novel -- which introduces more of the characters who will be reunited years later. Yet, though the intriguing, but short, 1989 story leaves a cliffhanger, His Watchful Eye appears to wrap things to a close. So a third book in this series appears uncertain. The combination of past events and the meeting at the Berlin Wall build strong curiosity, in any case. What happens next to our friends, after World War II and during those Cold War years in communist East Germany?

His Watchful Eye follows in the great style of Cavanaugh’s historical fiction, with an interesting and adventurous story supported by characters with strong friendships, and even some romance. The war without, and a personal, determined enemy keep the suspense building up toward a strong finale as Allied troops approach Berlin in the spring of 1945.

Friday, November 1, 2002

The Hope Before Us: Conclusion to World War II Series

Elyse Larson's "Women of Valor" series concludes with its third installment, The Hope Before Us.

Set in France during the fall of 1944, this book looks at France shortly after the Occupation, the early days of liberation. The war is not over yet, and indeed the characters see action that would later be known as the "Battle of the Bulge," but the Germans are generally on the run. Into this setting come Marge and Em Emerson, two sisters ages 24 and 22, from Oklahoma. Marge is a nurse recently assigned to a hospital near the front lines, in France near Belgium. Em works as a press correspondent in Paris, but soon takes on additional employment with the OSS, or Secret Services.

Marge's life gives the view at the front lines -- the horrors of war, including its impact on civilians. Yet she meets David, who as a conscientious objector serves as a medic, and is inspired by his godly attitude.

Em lives the life of danger, often taking chances in her drive to get good stories -- which she usually does. Through her the reader learns about the many risks taken by ordinary citizens of France as they worked for the Resistance movement. With her winsome style, she even witnesses the beauty of the Alps by bicycle as she traces routes taken across enemy lines.

The story alternates between Marge's nurse work and Em's adventures, providing more romance in Marge's story and more edge-of-your-seat adventure through Em's life. After establishing Marge's routine life, as contrasted with Em's journalistic adventures, action builds for an exciting, tense climax when the two sisters are united and together perform a daring rescue.

History covered includes the war in Europe from the fall of 1944 until January of 1945, a time when the Nazis continue retreating from France. The Allies have liberated much of France and now push into Belgium as well as into Germany, winning Aachen in October. But then the Germans pushed back in December, suddenly reclaiming areas previously liberated, in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Though the last in a three-part series, The Hope Before Us reads as a stand-alone novel. The previous two books in the series featured different main characters, and now a new set of "women of valor" are introduced for this separate story. After reading this book, I look forward to the previous two books, and wish there could be additional stories. With the two sisters still involved in the war at the book's end, January 1945, so much more could still be told.