Nick Dybek presents a beautifully written and memorable novel about a great love beginning on the outer edges of one of the most bloody battles of World War One at Verdun.
Tom is a young American traveling to Europe at the end of the war. He stays on after driving an ambulance during the fighting in order to help with the labor of identifying the dead and possibly uniting families looking for their relatives after the war. We find him in a job collecting bones from the battlefield and bringing them back for possible identification and burial.
Lonely, he is attracted to Sarah, a beautiful American woman visiting the area in search of her husband who disappeared after wandering off from his division and not being seen since. The two fall into an affair, and later meet again at an Italian hospital where a shell shocked soldier dubbed “Douglas Fairbanks” (the American silent screen star) is in the psychiatric ward. The patient has no memory of who he is and what happened to him. Sarah feels that the soldier has enough resemblance to her missing husband to possibly be him. Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist who has his own motives for wanting to meet the amnesiac known as “Douglas Fairbanks.”
The novel shifts to the 1950s in Hollywood where Tom has become a successful screen writer. He again encounters Paul who has continued to fight the demons of how to live and function again after the trauma that he has gone through. They talk and attempt again to come to terms with the events that have caused so much pain for them and for Sarah.
The story ends at this point with everything still up in the air; a situation most likely to occur in real life after facing the horrors of modern warfare. A very captivating novel drawing in the reader and immersing them into emotions and actions of thecharacters facing horrors that should never be faced by human beings.
6/18 Paul Lane
THE VERDUN AFFAIR by Nick Dybek. Scribner (June 12, 2018). ISBN 978-1501191763. 304p.