Henri’s family sends a son from each generation to military college for a commission into the French Foreign Legion. As he fulfills this tradition and the Second World War breaks out, Henri is faced with a dilemma which will lead to an adventure few could match in that conflict.
Leo is set on joining Goering’s new Luftwaffe. Like Henri, his closest friend at their school in England, his mother was born British. Leo’s war leads him into the secret world of Signals Intelligence, while the suspension of the moral law in time of conflict raises issues which he struggles to reconcile with his conscience and the ethics of his upbringing.
Bill is South African, a talented young rugby player at the same school as Henri and Leo, and heads for Cambridge on an RAF scholarship. His ultimate test comes from a least expected direction and a woman who has already suffered terribly.
Elizabeth’s home was Munich until her father becomes a professor at the Pasteur Institute, and she starts her own medical training in Paris. Her crucial decision to return to Germany conflicts with the circumstances of her family and the legacy of its past. Alone and threatened, Elizabeth escapes to the deserts of North Africa and the man who will change her life.
Four young people, forced into conflicting allegiances incompatible with the morality of their backgrounds, reach out to one another to preserve friendship and survival.
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Ok, so. I really hate writing bad reviews, but man did I not like this book. I never managed to get into, and ugh the writing style. If I DNFed books, this would have been a DNF. But before I get into all that, I would like to point out the parts I did like.
First off, I actually loved that the characters kept questioning what was moral to do during times of war, considering their personal and religious morals. I feel like that’s not something you really see a lot of or hear about when discussing war, other than the really big war crime type situations.
I also really liked that this isn’t a setting that I’ve ever read about – WWII in Norway, North Africa, and Italy, with mentions of African, Kiwi (New Zealand), and Greek armies. Almost every time I studied WWII in school or read about it in other books, the major powers were mentioned but not many of the other countries that were involved. Knowing about that so many countries around the world were involved makes it seem a little less self-centered calling it a “world war.”
That’s all that I can come up with. Onto the bad.
The number one thing I disliked about this book was the writing style. It really sounded like it was initially written to be a history textbook, but then the author decided to make characters live through the experiences. There was fact after fact after fact that these characters were inserted into, but they didn’t seem to be much affected by them. There was so many tell and so little feel words. If someone was scared, it basically said “they were scared,” then moved on. Actually, in the scariest situation that happened, being captured by the enemy and expecting to be killed, there was not a single mention of fear. Emotions did not exist.
The constant barrage of facts and troop movements and tactics was all so confusing. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t an area of the war that I’m familiar with and I’m sure not a lot of people are. Thus, giving all these movements in some North African city then moving to some other city without mentioning a country, then mentioning something happening somewhere else was not something I could follow for one main character, let alone four.
The dialogue was awkward as hell, and as an awkward person myself, I think I have the authority to say that. Characters would have face to face conversations that read more like a modern day one-sided phone conversation. One person would go on and on, the second person would say something unimportant to let the first person know they were still listening, and the first person would ignore them and continue with whatever they were saying. But like I said, these were face to face conversations. They made me cringe.
While some of these characters were doing their monologues, they would talk about relatively unimportant things, then the author would summarize another part of the conversation that was significantly more important to the plot. At some points there were even events or conversations that must have been completely skipped over, for example Leo and Theresa’s relationship. One chapter they meet for the first time, then next time they’re mentioned they’re crazy in love.
For some reason several characters with little to no interaction with each other all say the phrase “silence in the desert.” I get that that’s the title, but it’s so unrealistic that that many people would say that. It would have been just fine if just one said it. Maybe two, if that person had been there to hear the first person say it.
Lastly, the characterization. Or maybe I should say the lack thereof. I have no idea what any of the characters look like, outside of some really badly worded descriptions (i.e. “her tallish and very slim figure”). I have no idea what any of these character’s personalities are, as there is no mention of anything that sets any of them apart, other than their sex and which side they’re fighting for. That still leaves two guys that I kept getting mixed up.
I did find out after finishing this book that there is another related book that I think would fill in some of the holes toward the end, though Goodreads does not list them as part of a series, so I don’t know if it’s supposed to be read first or if it doesn’t matter.
Have you read Silence in the Desert? What did you think?