The Painting

Title: The Painting
Author: F.K. Wallace
Publisher: Self-published
Buy link:
Genre: Historical
Length: Novel (65794 words)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie

In a nutshell: A classic love story, set against the backdrop of war and its aftermath. I cried more than once, but the perfect ending made it all worth it.

The Blurb:

Stefan, a naïve young Pole, meets Gunter, an artist in 1930s Berlin. They begin a passionate love affair overshadowed by the rise of the Third Reich. Denounced to the Nazis, they are sent to Auschwitz as pink triangle prisoners. Some things even love cannot withstand. Forty years later Stefan returns to Poland with one question: when you have nothing, how do you prove that love ever existed?

The Review:

This book will be a hard sell for many, because I know lots of folks don’t want to read war stories, concentration camps, Nazis, suffering, deprivation, killing, torture and more. This story has all that, but it also has wonderful, lyrical writing, incredibly researched historical details, characters that reflect an amazing resilience and strength of spirit in spite of overwhelming odds, and last, but not least, an absolutely perfect ending. What I really appreciate about books that are tough to read is that the pay-off at the end is so worth it and in that respect, this book did not disappoint.

The story opens in a café in Berlin where Gunter sees Stefan and says, “Can I draw you?” They go back to his apartment, where:

A scuffed wooden chair stood in the middle of the floor. Without hesitation I walked towards it, shedding my clothes. It seemed natural that I should be naked; there was no suggestion, no coercion. The smooth wood was cool and the chair creaked as I sat sideways, one foot tucked onto the seat beneath me, my chin on my knee. He did not take his eyes from my face as he reached for pen and paper and began to draw.

And so it begins. The story covers a five decade span, from the waning days of the Weimar Republic, through World War II, and then the years from 1954 on as Stefan tries to rebuild his life. He is ultimately successful and does find happiness but it is not an easy path. But to me, that’s what makes this such a good book. The characters and situations are so vivid and fully realized that it all came to life for me. Everything that Stefan saw, smelled, tasted, touched—I was right there with him, living the experience.

I’ve been on a tear of reading war stories recently, and this was the second WWII story I read in a week. I am struck by the idea that when we think about “war” as a global concept we lose sight of how horrible and devastating it is, and how, at the individual level, people, particularly soldiers and guards, can be incredibly cruel. Even so, people who suffer and experience unthinkable deprivations somehow survive, which is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Could I manage to cope if faced with torture, starvation, beatings, rape? I don’t know. I don’t think Stefan ever expected to have to answer that question either, but he did and the answer was yes. His journey is the story told in this book and how he got to the other side, both figuratively and metaphorically, is a powerful tale.

I was surprised when I finished reading this to see it was just over 65,000 words. It felt much more epic. I don’t mean that as a criticism—it is more a reflection of the very good writing. The author was parsimonious and made every single word count. No padding or extraneous scenes in this book, that’s for sure!

This is an independent, self-published book—one of the “gems” I like to find. As such, it’s available only as an ebook: on Buy LinkAmazon in a Kindle version and Smashwords in multiple formats. I hope readers who are intrigued by this review make the effort to seek this book out. And if you’re not sure, you can read the first 25% on Smashwords, which I hope is enough to convince you to give this one a go.

Highly recommended.




  • Just dropping by to say thank you very much for the review. It’s wonderful to know that people love this book, that Stefan’s story is as emotional to read as it was to write.

    I’m working on getting the novel out in paperback via Createspace and Lulu for the ‘traditional’ reader.

    I hope links are allowed; there’s a free, related short story you can download at:

    Thanks again. As a self published writer, this is incredibly important for me.

  • Count me as another one who’s glad to see a self-published book get such a rave review! And I admire the author for tackling such a difficult subject. It might be a tough read, but I’m really looking forward to this.

  • Leslie,

    Another self-published find! Im sure its a gem as youve reviewed. The Cranberry Hush was excellent.

    • Hi Hannah, thanks for your comment. I really enjoy finding these undiscovered books and sharing them with everyone here!


  • Every time I see a self-published book get a great review I do a little dance in my head. It means the hand polished gems that people put so much work into are getting the recognition they deserve. ^_^

    • Hi Kim, I agree completely.

      I am not saying that publishers should go away (see Josh Lanyon’s great post on this topic from a few weeks ago) but I really appreciate the diversity that is available to readers now, with indie books, small presses and so on. It is rare these days for me to read something from a “big” publisher (unless Dreamspinner counts as “big”! LOL).


  • Gay historicals are hard for me to read because of the threat of death gay people lived under back then if they were ever to be found out. Throw in war time, Nazi Germany, concentration camps, etc…yikes! OTOH, I love epic novels. And based on your assurance of an incredible ending, I am thinking I might have to pick this one up. Not to mention it’s self-published, which makes me want to buy for that reason alone. This was a great review, thank you!

    • Hi Jellybelly, thanks for your comment!

      To me, the ending was completely unexpected but perfect for the story.

      This was a self-published “gem” — wonderful writing, nicely edited, no typos, no mistakes, and an excellent story that pulled all the pieces together without leaving any loose ends. I really enjoyed it, even if the actual reading was tough at times.


  • Leslie, I wonder if you could email me privately and tell me whether lovers in this book are both germans who are in the army or not. Thanks Leslie, great review as always 🙂


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