Powered by a giant "what if?" Resistance is an
unexpectedly suspenseful meditation on the ways the schisms of war can break
down when reduced to the human element, isolated from the larger machine. With
finely detailed prose and compassionate narration, Owen Sheers shapes an unusual
war novel, almost completely removed from violence and political struggles, yet
no less terrifying.
When the women in a remote Welsh valley wake to find their men gone without a trace, and a handful of German soldiers arrive days later on a mysterious mission, the tiny farming community is thrown into a state of suspended animation as a brutal winter descends, forcing the women to form a tentative alliance with the soldiers in order to survive. Mysteries abound, as the fate of the disappeared Welsh men is unknown, and the purpose of the German soldiers is unclear. As the war wages on, all outsiders cease their intermittent forays into the cloistered valley, and even the mail stops and radio signals fade, sealing them off from the rest of the world and the war. As much a character as any of the women or soldiers, the Olchon valley (in the Black Mountains area of the Brecon Beacons) emerges as a beautiful and affecting backdrop for the human drama.
At the heart of the novel is Sarah Lewis, a young wife, not yet a mother, facing fear, anger, and deep sadness. Each evening she pens an account of the day to her missing husband, each day she imagines clues or signs in the scenery, and at night she dreams of him. Through her we experience the heart wrenching loneliness, the blur of one day into the next as she and the other women throw themselves into the hard labors of maintaining their farms without their husbands and sons. Bolstered by the dimming hope that her husband will return, and conflicted in her reluctant friendship with a German soldier, Sarah wavers between fatalistic despair and hardy determination.
Albrecht, the German patrol's commanding officer, struggles with the nebulous goals of his mission, his wavering support of the war, and his human desire to escape into the anonymous hills of the Olchon valley, away from the war and its violent aims. We see his countenance change, from his first imperious visit to Sarah's home and smirking threats, to his gradual softening as he ceases to believe in the trappings of his uniform and seeks to make amends and gain Sarah's trust. In Albrecht we see the painful partitioning of the brain and the soul, so necessary to fighting a war, as it breaks down, and he is moved to make decisions that affect the fate of the entire valley, women and soldiers both.
At times, Resistance seems like it was once a much longer novel. A few tangents feel irrelevant and out of place, and when the secret reason for the German's mission is revealed, it feels sudden and underdeveloped. Otherwise, Sheers's writing is seamless, moving the action with poetic prose and the pacing of a quiet thriller.
Read BookBrowse members' "First Impression" reviews of Resistance which is one of our highest rated books to date with 16 reviewers rating it an average 4.7 out of 5 stars.
This review was originally published in March 2008, and has been updated for the February 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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