A Constant Soldier by William Ryan.

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About the Book

The pain woke him up. He was grateful for it. The train had stopped and somewhere, up above them, the drone of aircraft engines filled the night sky. He could almost remember her smile . . . It must be the morphine . . . He had managed not to think about her for months now.

1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.

When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.

But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.

And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .

My Review

War Fiction is only something I read occasionally, the books that I have read previously have all been told by a British or American slant so reading a novel told by a German officer’s view was completely different.
When Paul Brandt arrives back home from the Eastern Front with horrific injuries he is understandably disillusioned. He had never agreed with the War or Hitler’s plan and only joined up when he was given two options. Serve or go to prison for political offences. Soon after his return he sees a face from the past and when learning what is happening nearby he is determined to try and help.
When reading this novel, I felt almost like a spectator. It was obvious that Germany was devastated by the war they had no chance of winning but so many people were still in denial. I could see so many different personalities. Brandt and Neumann full of remorse and self-hatred, Jäger, bitter, rational and not afraid to upset those around him. And then there were the bullies, Peichl was one and there were others waiting in the background for their chance to shine.
There were other things that struck a chord. Doctors who visited the rest hut were feared and it took a while to realise who they might be. Definitely not the type of person you would expect a doctor to be. Gold fillings and teeth found in the possession of an officer was a chilling reminder of what was going on nearby.
Whilst distressing at times I wasn’t as devastated as I expected to be. Strangely perhaps, to others it was the description of the weather that I found most upsetting. How it must have been for a member of my family walking home across Europe after years spent as a P.O.W.
A lot of the novel was about desperation and fear but there was also a calm acceptance where I would have expected panic. There were also odd snippets of humour, mainly from Brandt and Jäger that was much appreciated.
I would have liked to know more about what happened to the characters who survived but accept that it was very realistic. Many people would have lost touch almost immediately.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received

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