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Library Journal Review
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 Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
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 PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
*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.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2018 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Three characters haunted by loss search for consolation.Evoking Francois Truffaut's acclaimed movie Jules and Jim (and the semiautobiographical novel by Henry-Pierre Roch that inspired it), Dybek (When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man, 2012) gently unfolds the story of two young men and the enigmatic woman who fascinates them and changes their lives. The story opens in Santa Monica in 1950, where Tom Combs, a Hollywood screenwriter, unexpectedly meets Paul Weyerhauser at a funeral. They have not seen each other since they first met in post-World War I Europe and became involved with a beautiful young American woman on an urgent quest. It was 1921, and Tom was assisting a priest in gathering bones for an ossuary, a memorial for soldiers lost in Verdun's brutal conflict whose remains were strewn or buried throughout the countryside. He was charged, also, with following up pleas from the many family members who visited the priest, desperately hoping for information: "They would weep and talkfor hours sometimesabout the man they'd lost. As if all that talk might help us identify him, as if it might bring him back to life." Among them is Sarah Hagen, whose husband, Lee, went missing in the spring of 1918. Something about her stirs Tom: He tells her he met Lee Hagen in Aix-les-Bains, that he seemed fine and happy. Sarah tries to believe the lie; certainly she believes Tom's kindness, and the two begin an affairbrief, because Sarah goes on in her search. They meet again at a mental hospital in Italy, where an amnesiac patient may, or may not, be Lee Hagen and where they encounter Paul, an Austrian journalist also searching for a man: in his case, an American ambulance driver whose fate obsesses him. In delicate, evocative prose, Dybek captures the grim devastation of scarred battlefields, bombed villages, and fetid soil and conveys with sensitivity his characters' unabated desire to see in the shellshocked soldier an answer to their deepest desire.A familiar love triangle reimagined in an absorbing tale. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.