The Verdun affair A novel

Nick Dybek

Book - 2018

"A sweeping, romantic, and profoundly moving novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s, about a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart. In 1921, two young Americans meet in Verdun, the city in France where one of the most devastating battles of the war was waged. Tom is an orphan from Chicago, a former ambulance driver now gathering bones from the battlefield; S...arah is an expatriate from Boston searching for the husband who wandered off from his division and hasn't been seen since. Quickly, the two fall into a complicated affair against the ghostly backdrop of the ruined city. Months later, Sarah and Tom meet again at the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital, drawn there by the appearance of a mysterious patient the doctors call Douglas Fairbanks (after the silent film actor)--a shell-shocked soldier with no memory of who he is. At the hospital, Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist with his own interest in the amnesiac. Each is keeping a secret; each has been shaken by the horrors of war. Decades later, Tom, now a successful screenwriter, encounters Paul by chance in LA, still grappling with the questions raised by this gorgeous and incisive novel: How to begin again after unfathomable trauma? How to love after so much loss? And who, in the end, was Douglas Fairbanks? From the bone-strewn fields of Verdun to the bombed-out cafes of Paris, from the riot-torn streets of Bologna to the riotous parties of 1950s Hollywood, The Verdun Affair is a riveting tale of romance, grief, and the far-reaching consequences of a single lie"--

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Subjects
Genres
Love stories
Romance fiction
Historical fiction
Published
New York : Scribner 2018.
Edition
First Scribner hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
294 pages ; 24 cm
ISBN
9781501191763
1501191764
9781501191770
1501191772
Main Author
Nick Dybek (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* In Verdun, France, the site of WWI's most horrific and prolonged trench-warfare battle, Tom, an American orphaned in France as a boy and taken in by the church, served as an ambulance driver at Verdun and now collects bones in a quixotic effort to identify the dead. Complete with mediums promising contact with fallen soldiers, Verdun is a somber mecca for the bereaved, including Sarah, an elegant Massachusetts blue blood searching for her husband. As she and Tom navigate a grief-shadowed affair, Tom turns himself into a journalist in Paris. Eventually Tom, Sarah, and Paul, an Austrian war veteran who has survived surreal ordeals and who complicates the lovers' already imperiled relationship, end up in Bologna, where a much-publicized amnesiac is a magnet for those searching for the missing and where Italy's rising Fascists are bringing terror to the streets. Another layer of calculated suspense is created in alternating sections set in 1950s Hollywood, where Tom is scraping by as a screenwriter. Dybek (When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man, 2012) has created a carefully constructed, deeply inquisitive, and broodingly romantic tale of mourning resonant with judicious echoes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and spiked with piquant insights into the loss, longing, and delusion rampant in the haunting aftermath of war. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Award-winning novelist Dybek (When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man) centers his second novel on the love story between two Americans who meet in France just after World War I. Sarah is searching for her husband, who vanished from his division during the war. Tom is a former ambulance driver now involved in the effort to gather bones from the battlefield at Verdun (one of the longest and most costly battles in human history) to be placed in the Douaumont Ossuary, a memorial to the fallen soldiers. However, an amnesiac soldier, who may or may not be Sarah's lost husband, casts a shadow on their relationship. The story moves from a Europe still recovering after the devastation of the previous war, as the violent appearance of the fascist Blackshirts in Italy presages the next, to 1950s Los Angeles. Beautifully written, romantic, and atmospheric, the novel has a lyrical pace that evokes an earlier style of writing and does not as much aim to keep readers turning the pages as it does to draw them into a different time, full of melancholy and unspoken emotions. VERDICT With the understated style of Ernest Hemingway, this novel will appeal to lovers of classic wartime romances (A Farewell to Arms) as well as fans of literary historical fiction by authors such as Paula McLain.—Elizabeth Safford, Boxford Town Lib., MA Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Dybek's gripping second novel (after When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man), a cleverly constructed page-turner, travels back and forth in time between a European continent devastated by World War I and 1950s Hollywood. Tom Combs is an American ambulance driver who stays on in the war's aftermath to work for a priest, collecting the bones of dead soldiers from the battlefields of Verdun. He falls in love with Sarah Hagen, a fellow American, but she has come to France looking for news of her "missing, believed dead" husband. Sarah goes off in search of information, and Tom takes a job as a journalist in Paris. They meet again in Bologna in 1922, when a soldier creates a sensation after showing up in a hospital there with no recollection of who he is. Sarah believes the mysterious soldier is her husband, though others have reason to believe otherwise. Years later, Tom, working in Hollywood, comes across Paul, a fellow journalist from those heady days in Italy, and, reliving their unresolved past, they discover each entertains a different version of the truth. Dybek is a master at creating an atmosphere of war, of decadence amid the rubble, and at dipping in and out of history, teasing the reader with beguiling clues concerning the secrets each character harbors about the amnesiac. Dybek's novel is a complex tale of memory, choice, and the sacrifices one sometimes makes by doing the right thing. Agent: Julie Barer, the Book Group. (June) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A sweeping, romantic, and profoundly moving novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s, about a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tearsthem apart. In 1921, two young Americans meet in Verdun, the city in France where one of the most devastating battles of the war was waged. Tom is an orphan from Chicago, a former ambulance driver now gathering bones from the battlefield; Sarah is an expatriate from Boston searching for the husband who wandered off from his division and hasn't been seen since. Quickly, the two fall into a complicated affair against the ghostly backdrop of the ruined city. Months later, Sarah and Tom meet again at the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital, drawn there by the appearance of a mysterious patient the doctors call Douglas Fairbanks (after the silent film actor)--a shell-shocked soldier with no memory of who he is. At the hospital, Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist with his own interest in the amnesiac. Each is keeping a secret; each has been shaken by the horrors of war. Decades later, Tom, now a successful screenwriter, encounters Paul by chance in LA, still grappling with the questions raised by this gorgeous and incisive novel: How to begin again after unfathomable trauma? How to love after so much loss? And who, in the end, was Douglas Fairbanks? From the bone-strewn fields of Verdun to the bombed-out cafes of Paris, from the riot-torn streets of Bologna to the riotous parties of 1950s Hollywood, The Verdun Affair is a riveting tale of romance, grief, and the far-reaching consequences of a single lie"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A sweeping novel set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s follows a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A sweeping novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s follows a lonely young man, a beautiful widow and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Across a continent still reeling from World War I, a 'ravishingly beautiful' (Paula McClain) story about a love affair between two Americans and the lie that changes everything.France, 1921'tom, a young American orphaned in World War I, is working at an ossuary in Verdun, helping priests comfort families seeking answers about their loved ones. But nothing in his past'not his rough-and-tumble Chicago childhood nor his experiences driving ambulances across French battlefields'can prepare Tom for the arrival of Sarah Hagen. From the moment he sees her, a young woman in a blue dress desperate for news of her missing husband, he knows he will help her in any way he can.As their affair takes them across a fractured Europe, Tom and Sarah reckon with the ways extraordinary circumstances impact the lives of ordinary people. They eventually part but when news of an amnesiac soldier in Naples reaches Tom in Paris, he sets off, only to find Sarah there, hopeful as ever, along with an Austrian journalist named Paul who has his own agenda. Years later, a chance encounter with Paul forces Tom, now a screenwriter in Hollywood, to confront his past'and the woman he's never been able to forget.A page-turning, vividly imagined, and deeply romantic novel about love and identity, truth and consequences, The Verdun Affair is a 'literary romance'[that] unravels a love triangle and its players' secrets' (Los Angeles Times). It will transport you to another place and time while asking the question: Who are you in a world you no longer recognize?