A guest review by Sirius.
Summary: A very well written book about recovering from the horrors of war with two wonderful lead characters, but beware a lot of these horrors are described pretty explicitly.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “No man and no force can abolish memory.” John Oakes and Kurt Fournier are living proof of the truth behind those words. Since the horrors of the Second World War, John and Kurt have been trudging through existence, bleeding from wounds that have never healed. Now they’re at the crossroads of the 1950s: the war may be over, but the battle to find lasting peace has just begun.
John, a PhD student at UC Berkeley and a battle-hardened veteran, floats through his postwar life until he catches the mysterious Kurt secretly playing a university piano. John thinks he may find comfort in Kurt’s company but doesn’t know how to connect with a man who lives a life of such careful solitude. Guilt and regret threaten to cripple their hopes for a normal life. No man is an island, so John and Kurt must risk their hearts to find happiness. Unfortunately, memories and enduring fears can paralyze even the strongest man.
Warning: book contains explicit physical and sexual violence.
“The older inmates told us the average life expectancy of a queer or a Jew in Mauthausen was only a few months. Six at most.
“Yet you survived three years. How did you do it?”
He lifts his head slowly, training his eyes on me, and finally he answers in a quiet voice, “Any way I could”.
I am sure many readers have subjects, themes, topics which are important to them for one reason or another. As different as those subjects may be for each of us, when we encounter them in mm literature (any genre, really, I am just specifically talking about stories that include romantic storylines now), we may be especially sensitive to how the writer portrays those themes. The Second World War is one of those subjects for me. Not because of a very in depth knowledge I have of it (although I would not call myself ignorant on that topic either), but because of family members surviving (and a lot of them not surviving) throughout the war. What I am trying to say is that I am usually very very nervous and worried when I pick up the book about the horrors of that war. I feel like that if you choose to write about romance during that time, you still have to treat the subject with respect and sensitivity and not swipe the pain, the suffering away because it is a romance.
I think this writer succeeded and admirably in doing that. She says in the afterword of the book that she tried very hard not to sensationalise the sufferings the men went through in the camps, but she needed to show the horror of the situation as well. Obviously it is up for everybody to decide whether they agree with me, but I felt that the violence and horror of what these men went through on a regular basis was dealt with in a matter of fact way and the message which I took from this book was “lets never forget and try to make sure that this would never happen again” rather than “that writer just wrote the violence for the sake of it.” Having said it, be warned, there is enough in this story for you to be upset over and if you feel you may have problems with that, stay away.
And of course the violence was not the only thing that happened in this story . There was a beautiful love story destroyed by war and there was a love story, or more like the story of healing slowly, oh so very slowly built by two survivors. John and Kurt as the blurb tells you both deal with the different sides of those horrors, but at the same time it is all connected. Have I mentioned yet that their story is dark? Let me say it one more time – not only what happened in the concentration camp is painful, but dealing with their wounds is no less painful for both of them.
I really really liked how slowly and carefully the author built the connection between these men. There is no Insta!Love as it would have looked incredibly silly and offensive even for these guys’ situation. Despite their PTSD, despite one step forward, two steps back, they mostly manage to be slow, patient, careful with each other and I really liked it.
It is NOT an erotic romance and again, based on what one of them went through in the camp and how hard it was for him to allow himself a real intimacy, I would have wanted to throw the book against the wall if we were treated to them jumping to bed right away and doing it many times. There are few not very explicit scenes, but even most of those relate to the love destroyed by war (no, I will not say more for the fear of spoilers). But those few times I saw John and Kurt together were for me incredibly rewarding.
I just get really frustrated with “love magically cures everything” stories, so I also really enjoyed that there was no such thing for John and Kurt after they acknowledged their love and they had to deal with their demons for the years to come – it is just they could now do it together (and yes, therapy was mentioned too).