The Verdun Affair: Book summary and reviews of The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek

The Verdun Affair

by Nick Dybek

The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek X
The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2018
    304 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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Book Summary

A sweeping, romantic, and profoundly moving novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s, about a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart.

In 1921, two young Americans meet in Verdun, the city in France where one of the most devastating battles of the war was waged. Tom is an orphan from Chicago, a former ambulance driver now gathering bones from the battlefield; Sarah is an expatriate from Boston searching for the husband who wandered off from his division and hasn't been seen since. Quickly, the two fall into a complicated affair against the ghostly backdrop of the ruined city. Months later, Sarah and Tom meet again at the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital, drawn there by the appearance of a mysterious patient the doctors call Douglas Fairbanks (after the silent film actor) - a shell-shocked soldier with no memory of who he is. At the hospital, Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist with his own interest in the amnesiac.

Each is keeping a secret; each has been shaken by the horrors of war. Decades later, Tom, now a successful screenwriter, encounters Paul by chance in LA, still grappling with the questions raised by this gorgeous and incisive novel: How to begin again after unfathomable trauma? How to love after so much loss? And who, in the end, was Douglas Fairbanks?

From the bone-strewn fields of Verdun to the bombed-out cafés of Paris, from the riot-torn streets of Bologna to the riotous parties of 1950s Hollywood, The Verdun Affair is a riveting tale of romance, grief, and the far-reaching consequences of a single lie.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
"The Verdun Affair appears to have a lot to offer. In 1921, young American Tom is working in the ruins of Verdun, a French city devastated by World War One, where he collects bones of the dead from the battlefield. He meets a war widow and they embark upon a love affair. The writing is of a high quality and Dybek has a talent for descriptive and emotive prose. The story is slow to ignite however, and a layer of complexity - perhaps unnecessary - is introduced with a dual narrative about Tom, years later, in Hollywood, meeting up with a man, Paul, who he also knew in France. With much to-ing and fro-ing between past and present, combined with Tom's back story as an orphan, it is difficult to engage with Tom and Sarah's story. Sarah's feelings are hard to parse and shown only through Tom's rather inadequate point of view. Dybek hints at a great passion and uses fine words and description but there is a hollowness to his characterization that doesn't draw the reader in."

Other Reviews
"Starred Review. Dybek's novel is a complex tale of memory, choice, and the sacrifices one sometimes makes by doing the right thing." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Dybek has created a carefully constructed, deeply inquisitive, and broodingly romantic tale of mourning resonant with judicious echoes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and spiked with piquant insights into the loss, longing, and delusion rampant in the haunting aftermath of war." - Booklist

"Starred Review. With the understated style of Ernest Hemingway, this novel will appeal to lovers of classic wartime romances (A Farewell to Arms) as well as fans of literary historical fiction by authors such as Paula McLain." - Library Journal

"In delicate, evocative prose, Dybek captures the grim devastation of scarred battlefields, bombed villages, and fetid soil and conveys with sensitivity his characters' unabated desire to see in the shellshocked soldier an answer to their deepest desire." - Kirkus

"The Verdun Affair is ravishingly beautiful, and as much about love as about war. Nick Dybek is a storyteller of great power." - Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

"Sometimes the true battle begins only after the fighting is over. In this case, it's the struggle to regain feeling, memory, and love in a landscape where verdancy can flourish again over graves and trenches and bones, but not over the craters of a wounded spirit. In the end, only a story can do that, but it must be as rich and poignant and compelling as Nick Dybek's immersive and atmospheric The Verdun Affair. The meaning in life often goes AWOL, and we look to our great writers - writers like Nick Dybek - to bring it back." - Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son and Fortune Smiles

The Verdun Affair is an intensely gripping story set in the immediate aftermath of war. From a still-smoldering battlefield, Nick Dybek conjures a sweeping saga of secrets, lies, mistaken identity, love and betrayal. This is the kind of book you can't put down." - Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn

"The Verdun Affair is a masterful, sweeping novel of love and war and the way we reconstruct ourselves and our stories after everything has come apart. Nick Dybek is a vivid storyteller, and this is a beautiful and exciting book." - Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One is Here Except all of Us

"I am still haunted by the images of war so deftly conjured in the midst of an elegiac love story. Dybek writes with a commanding sense of story and language. This novel will not let you go." - Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before The War

"Love, war, the mysteries of who we are - it's all in The Verdun Affair. A masterful novel that will fizz your brain and enchant your heart." - David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife

"A haunting, beautiful, and wholly absorbing book, that is at once a gripping story of war, a poignant coming of age, and a bittersweet romance. Dybek conjures the time period with elegance and visceral detail. I didn't want it to end!" - Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles and Circe

The information about The Verdun Affair shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Nick Dybek

Nick Dybek is a recipient of a Granta New Voices selection, a Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and a Maytag Fellowship. He received a BA from the University of Michigan and an MFA from The Iowa Writers' Workshop. He teaches at Oregon State University. He is the author of When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man and The Verdun Affair.

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