Two young men come of age and fall in love against the backdrop of true events in World War II.
It’s 1938. Bastian Fisher and Max Amsel meet at a Nazi-American summer camp, Camp Siegfried. Neither boy has any idea what to do with their blooming, confusing feelings for one another. Before they can begin to understand, the pair is yanked back into reality and forced in opposite directions.
Five years later, during the heart of World War II, Bastian’s American army platoon has landed in Salerno, Italy. Max is in Nazi-occupied Rome where he has negotiated a plan to hire Jews as ‘extras’ in a movie – an elaborate ruse to escape the Nazis. Brought together by circumstance and war, Bastian and Max find one another again in Rome.
Format: ebook (348 pages) Publisher: Warren Publishing Publication date: 1st May 2018 Genre: Historical fiction, LGBT
Purchase links* Amazon UK | Hive (supporting UK bookshops) *links provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme
The Artist and the Soldier is described as “exploring the true stories of Camp Siegfried, a Nazi-American summer camp in New York, and the making of the film which saved hundreds of lives”. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if more of the book had focused on how camps like Camp Siegfried came to be run in America as it seems quite extraordinary now that young people should have been exposed to pro-Nazi propaganda at this time. Having said that, in her afterword, the author talks more about the inspiration for the book and you can also find out more in my Q&A with Angelle conducted ahead of its publication in 2018. (Unfortunately this will also demonstrate – to my shame – just how long this book has been in my review pile.)
Understandably, the main focus of the book is the relationship between Max and Bastian, both of whom are forced to hide their true sexuality. The author does a good job of conveying the confusion and uncertainty caused by their growing feelings for each other, the shifting dynamics of their relationship and also the exhilaration of finding someone with whom you can be yourself. Max and Bastian also share troubled home lives and have experienced family tragedy. Before their relationship can develop further, however, a shocking and, to my mind, unforgivable action on the part of one of them drives them in different directions.
The son of an Italian mother, Max takes up his Uncle Franco’s suggestion that he travel to Italy, where he eventually enrols in film school. Meanwhile Bastian, in an act of rebellion against his violent and pro-Nazi father, enlists with the US Army. ‘What would anger his father more than anything in the world? If he joined the fight against the Nazis.’ He is posted abroad and it will be many years until Max and Bastian meet again.
I confess I wasn’t a huge fan of the frequent “head-hopping” between the thoughts of different characters (occasionally within a single paragraph). I found it rather distracting and sometimes had to re-read a section to work out whose thoughts were being revealed. I much preferred the chapters later in the book written mainly or entirely from a single point of view. As it happens, this coincided with the change of location to wartime Italy and this was much the most interesting part of the book for me.
Bastian’s sister, Ilsa, makes an appearance in the second half of the book and I found her a particularly engaging character. Whereas I found Bastian difficult to like – even his sister describes him as “the king of self-preservation” – I admired Isla’s conviction that she could help to make the world a better place. Enrolling as a nurse, her intervention proves crucial on a number of occasions and I wished for a happier outcome for her.
The Artist and the Soldier combines an intense love story with the depiction of real life events. In doing so it shines a light on the courage and resilience of those who tried to protect others from the horrors of war.
My thanks to Angelle for my digital copy of her book and waiting so patiently for my review.
Angelle Petta began writing novels over 15 years ago and has written in several genres.
She holds an MA from Emerson College, and a master’s equivalency in Drama Therapy through the NADTA. Angelle is a registered drama therapist and a PhD student at Lesley University. She works as a Drama Therapist at an Expressive Arts Center in Virginia called A Place To Be.
She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, two delightful dogs, and one fat cat.