Author: Arnold Simon
Publisher: Noldan Publishing
The following review was submitted by Greg Lewis.
Arnold Simon’s novel A Break In The Storm spans the years between the first and second world wars, two decades in which German anger and resentment of the Versailles treaty fomented and grew.
In that ambitious historical sweep the characters somehow represent the ‘unfinished business’ of the awful trench warfare of the first war and the mistakes made by those who drew up the peace treaties of 1919.
The novel moves back and for between the Western Front and the years up until 1936, as the Nazis gain their stranglehold on power at home and turn their attention to international affairs.
All of Simon’s characters are very much a product of their time. Their lives were forged in the ferocious years between 1914-1918. They all recognise that the armistice which ended the fighting did not really bring about a lasting peace. The second conflict is almost waiting to happen. Hitler will ensure that it does.
Andre Laroche saw his family murdered by the Germans in his home town in Belgium. He knows Germany is like a wounded lion.
Josef Steeg, who as a young officer supervised the killing of Laroche’s family, is rising through the ranks of the Nazi Party. He believes he has literally got away with murder.
But Laroche and Steeg are about to brought together through the lives of Erich Behrndt, an idealistic young German who believes his country deserves to be strong again, and Lise Hermann, the woman he meets and falls for.
Lise doesn’t know it but her life has been shaped by the Great War too. She was adopted at birth and her real father is now a world-renowned physicist. His Jewishness provides Steeg with the seed for a devious plot to bring down his rival Behrndt and coerce Lise into a sexual relationship.
The plot moves towards Hitler’s decision to send soldiers into the Rhineland. The area east of the Rhine was demilitarised at the end of World War 1 to protect neighbouring France. When Hitler sent in the troops in 1936, he was testing the other European powers, daring them to respond. When they did not, he was encouraged to move into the Sudetenland, Austria and Poland, and in doing so bring about the Second World War.
The book’s publicity material suggests the main characters might have some affect on the allies, encouraging them to stand up to the Nazi dictator and change the course of history. ‘The last chance to prevent the next war hung in the balance,’ reads the cover blurb. ‘So did their lives.’
Fortunately, Simon’s novel does not take that line. He has resisted the temptation to create a Zelig/Forrest Gump-style story in which his characters play out their lives against true, world changing events. And the story is the better for it. This is a plot driven by human emotions: desire, greed and ambition, on one side; love and a search for truth and justice on the other. Therefore the characters have to be well drawn and for the most part they are. Lise is perhaps the weakest, having to bear the weight of much of the plot: she has to fall for three men and discover the truth about her real family. However, US-based Simon handles his plot deftly and with an obvious love for the areas of Europe which he describes.