Wow. This was a hell of a ride.
To begin with we're introduced to Hagen, an SS officer captured by the Americans in France. Captured by one particular American, John, whose job it is to interrogate Hagen and find out what he's doing in France...and if the paperwork he's carrying is legitimate.
So that's the setup.
What I wasn't expecting here was to feel such an emotional attachment to Hagen...because SS, right? And I know that it's too easy to label one side evil and one side good, but it turns out that those are some really old ingrained prejudices of mine, which probably began when I listened to my grandfather's war stories about North Africa, and have been reenforced by every movie I've ever seen since... I mean, Hagen isn't just some conscripted German guy, he's SS. He's a true believer.
So this one threw me for a loop, and I loved it. I loved Hagen's innocence, his sense of nobility, his sense of duty, and his growing sense of self. And I loved John as well...he hates this guy at the beginning, and makes no apologies for it. And why should he? But they are both much more than their uniforms, and much more than the roles the war has allotted them.
Here are two men who have good reason to hate each other -- Hagen's beloved brother died in John's camp, and Hagen killed John's friend and lover -- but ultimately have more in common than they have differences. They are both tired of the war, tired of the bloodshed, and they both let down their defences just enough to make a real human connection.
No black and white in this book. Everything happens in the grey areas. War is a terrible business, men can be heroes and villains in the same day. They can do bad things for good reasons, and good things for bad reasons. Morality is different in war, however much we tell ourselves it should be a fixed mark.
This is a beautiful book, melancholic, and watching these two men fall in love was at once wonderful and terrifying, because I couldn't see how it could survive.
(No star rating because I write for Riptide as well.)