A Trip to Germany with Eoin Dempsey
The Second World War might seem like it happened ages ago to most of us, but the sheer magnitude and complexity of the event will leave it fresh in humanity’s collective memory for a very long time to come. It’s a period in history which fascinates an incredible number of people, and not without reason: it was, after all, a time when the rules of life got completely re-written and extreme circumstances were the only ones people experienced. I believe that when an author writes a historical fiction novel that takes place during the Second World War they owe it to their audience to faithfully capture whatever subject they choose to focus on. It’s a sort of quality few writers possess, and in my opinion Eoin Dempsey is certainly one of them as he clearly shows it in his novel White Rose, Black Forest.
To clear things up, this is indeed a work of fiction that takes place during World War II and it aims to tell a particular story which, for the most part, stands outside the grand strokes of the conflict. We are introduced to Franka Gerber, a German woman who hates the Nazi regime after it claimed the lives of her brother and father. The year 1944 is looming quite closely, and that’s when Franka finds a new reason to live when she stumbles on an injured airman from the Luftwaffe. Despite her hatred for the regime, she takes him to her family’s cottage in the forest, and things take a turn for the strange. Franka quickly finds out there is more to the man’s identity than meets the eye, and through their time spent together a bond starts to form, and its strength will push both to their limits as they move onwards to a cause bigger than themselves.
The Devil in the Details
Eoin Dempsey elected to use a descriptive writing style for this novel, and as such he spends quite a bit of time depicting in great detail the places we go to, the people we meet and the events we witness. While in itself it’s a simple choice, the truth is that this kind of approach requires a lot of care and precision; if the descriptions fail to move the reader, then the whole book becomes boring quite quickly. It seems that in this case the author understood that quite well and has clearly spent countless hours perfecting his manuscript.
Every single thing which he shows us is describe from top to bottom, leaving nothing out. Eoin Dempsey shows us the world in great depth while using metaphors and comparisons as a true master would. All the little details help bring his depictions to life and make the story feel alive and active, even when it’s not necessarily the case from a plot-centric point of view. Additionally, while the book doesn’t really have many action scenes they steal the show on every single occasion. The bombing of the German city is a passage I won’t soon forget as Dempsey assaults all of your senses with the chaos spilling over from the pages themselves and into your lap.
A Rebel’s Life
When most WWII novels seek to present characters which are against the German establishment, they are more of than not of a foreign nationality. After all, it seems that convincing the average reader of a foreigner being against Nazis is easier than doing the same with a German character. Unfortunately, this approach heavily skews a reality that more and more people seem intent on forgetting: countless German people were indeed opposed to the Nazis but couldn’t speak out… generally because they preferred being alive rather than dead. I’m extremely glad that Dempsey chose to make his main character one of those German people, and the more we learn about her the more endearing she becomes.
We are shown life through her eyes and get to sympathize with her misery while learning what thoughts brew in her head that she couldn’t openly express. Drawn deep into her mind, we are presented with an extensive psychological portrait of a dissident with nothing to lose, of a woman who found the strength to move on towards something greater than herself. While she naturally isn’t perfect, her perseverance and moral compass make up for whatever flaws she might have, and it’s quite inspiring to watch her plough onwards to do what she feels is right even though she clearly knows the danger her actions are putting her in. While we do get to learn about other characters, namely the airman she rescues (won’t say more on him to keep the spoilers to a minimum), the brunt of the focus is placed on Franka and she doesn’t disappoint as the lead role.
The Final Verdict
To wrap things up, White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey is one of the most engaging WWII historical fiction novels I’ve read in recent memory and has everything you could possibly want from a book. The technical aspects of the writing are irreproachable, the story is captivating, the main character is extremely well-developed and interesting to follow, as are the secondary ones to a lesser extent. The descriptions are truly on a whole other level and transport us to a unique time and place in history in the blink of an eye. Anyone who enjoys Second World War fiction novels that focus more on the human rather than the military element will absolutely love this book.
Eoin Dempsey is an Irish writer who began his writing career after moving to the United States and seeing his day job go under alongside the Lehman brothers. After penning Finding Rebecca , he decided to pursue his literary career and has written some highly-acclaimed books to follow, including The Bogside Boys and White Rose, Black Forest.