Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

Disclaimer: The author has kindly sent me a copy of Wolfsangel in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

SUMMARY (from Goodreads): 1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France.
Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

MY OPINION:

As summaries tend to be, the above summary/blurb for Wolfsangel is somewhat misleading, since the main focus of the book is not really the love story but Céleste’s life in general. However, this is actually a good thing.

First of all, I loved the way Liza Perrat associated the title, Wolfsangel, with three different elements in the novel (I am not telling you which, as it would spoil the story.)

I have struggled through the first third of the book, unsure about how to feel about Céleste. She starts as a naive girl who wants to escape the boring country life, and despite resenting the presence of the occupiers in her village, she does not fully comprehend what the occupation and war really mean. Unable to understand her mother’s detachment and conflicting actions, Céleste seems sometimes justifiably defiant, but at other times unnecessarily petulant.

Thus, the relationship between Céleste and her mother is rather stereotypical at the beginning, as is the presentation of other village characters and a Jewish family. Yet, as the novel progresses, Liza Perrat develops these characters into life-like ones, the sorts one could have met and perhaps still can in many common rural and semi-rural places around the world.

As Céleste gets caught in the middle of balancing the ostensible obedience to the rules of the occupation and her work for the resistance, she matures, although at the expense of great personal suffering and loss. From a moody and sometimes ignorant young girl, she turns into a person of integrity and inner strength, despite some of her foolish and not well-thought-of actions.

The presumed love-story between Céleste and a German officer was the element of the novel that seemed the most off to me in terms of believability. It may have something to do with the fact that initially we get to know Céleste from what she (for the novel is written in the first person) tells us, instead of shows. Hence, I could not believe her supposed feelings for Martin. To me, it all seemed just an infatuation, not love; after all, they do not really know each other at all. The fact that Céleste did not realize that was perhaps the only thing I missed in the novel and which would provide a full closure.

Nevertheless, Wolfsangel has some initial struggles with the characters’ presentation and the slightly too strong a telling mode, but when it catches its footing, it becomes a gripping read. The writing is a bit rough around the edges, but it somehow fits Céleste, a not-so-simple country girl, and as the events started piling up, I sped through the book, unable to put it down. In the end, Wolfsangel made me cry. And to me a book provoking such a strong physical reaction from me is always a good thing.
To conclude, I can say Wolfsangel is an overall a good, satisfying read. It may seem a bit simple and have some shortcomings, but the whole makes a lasting positive impression.

RECOMMENDATION: Wolfsangel is a compelling WW II novel. Although it presents the war from a rather limited point of view of a French farm-girl, it is all the more interesting for that very fact, for showing the war from a female perspective and from the perspective of a person who is not yet set in her beliefs.
4 stars

Note: Another plus side to the book is that even though Wolfsangel is the second book in L’Auberge des Anges series, it can be read as a stand-alone, since the series is only loosely tied together by a few elements, one of them being the setting.

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