Last Tuesday night found me heading off to my local library for an author talk entitled ‘Writing Evil: Fiction and the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany’. Essentially it covered books written about World War 2 which has long been a fascination of mine.
I was there to see Jason Hewitt, author of Devastation Road which is a powerful book that I’d highly recommend. The author talk was great, it was interesting to hear the authors talk about what motivated them to write the novels they wrote, how they felt and see from their point of view what they wanted to achieve with their writing.
The upshot of this was that I went home with Hewitt’s first book The Dynamite Room which, in my opinion, had a lot to live up to in comparison to Devastation Road.
Both are novels set in World War 2 but at the talk, Hewitt did say that he wanted to explore parts of the war that had not been done before. This book tells the story of Lydia, an evacuee who runs away from Wales where she has been sent. She returns home to find her home, the village and the surrounding area deserted. Later on that night a German soldier arrives, telling her that a full-scale invasion is imminent, she must stay indoors and not run away.
When I started reading this book and for the first 100 pages, I wasn’t convinced, I wasn’t feeling the tension but as the story starts to unravel and you get to know more about the soldier and how he came to be in a village in Suffolk, you begin to see how war changes people and their relationships, how they do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do outside of war. It is piercingly sad in places, shocking in others. Hewitt doesn’t pull any punches at all and the book is richer for that. War isn’t pretty, it is piercingly sad and it is shocking. That’s the reality of it.
What strikes me most about this novel is the sense of loss. It stayed with me long after I’d finished the book, much like The Book Thief. I was thinking about how it could have panned out differently and the scenarios that might have lead to that alternative ending. I think Hewitt admirably demonstrates the humanity of the German soldier despite him being the enemy and clearly shows the difficult decisions he had to make along the way.
Without a doubt, war brings out the worst in humanity.