Tag Archives: War crimes

A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva

The option for Daniel Silvia’s book series featuring Gabriel Allon has recently been picked up by MGM. These espionage novels should easily translate into an exciting visualization highlighting Silva’s fast acting plots. Unfortunately, as a novel there is just a little something missing which detracts from the whole. Yes, A Death in Vienna, the third of a collection of books involving the retired multilingual Mossad Agent and his search for the truth about the Holocaust, is a quick read on a subject which remains front and center seven plus decades after this catastrophic historical event (the book was published in 2005). However, there were so many names to distinguish plus continual movement from one locale to another, that I was confused on more than one occasion. Despite a story which spanned over four hundred pages, there seemed to be a few gaps, especially in regards to the development of the numerous characters involved in this Nazi intrigue. The book reminded me of a television series which focuses on each week’s plot with a little bit about the main players at the beginning and the end of each episode so the viewer can develop a loyalty towards the show. Unfortunately, Silva’s approach makes it difficult to relate to the various personas, especially the enigmatic protagonist Gabriel.

When an old friend is involved in a bombing in Vienna, Gabriel Allon must leave his Venice home where he works as an art restorer, and travel to Italy to discover the identity of the perpetrators behind this seemingly random event. The fact the incident occurs at the Wartime Crimes and Inquiry Office is a major clue, but the question remains: What details from Nazi Germany have been uncovered and who exactly is feeling threatened? Unfortunately, Allon is on Vienna’s “you’re not welcome here” list due to a conflict from a previous book, and he is none too gently escorted out of the country, but not before he unearths some information about a possible Nazi survivor. Allons treacherous exploration to uncover the facts in this case leads him to locales such as the Vatican, Argentina, the United States, Israel, Germany, and Czechoslovakia where distinguishing friend from foe is a matter of life or death. Then once the truth is ascertained and verified, justice must be served.

My favorite parts of the novel is the backstory involving Allon’s wife and son who were caught in a car bombing, his mother who survived life in a Nazi Concentration Camp and the Death March from Birkenau, and a partner who has his back in more ways than one. I also appreciated learning some new information about the Holocaust (or Shoah) including the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church, Austria, and even the United States who assisted “helpful” Nazis in avoiding prosecution for war crimes. The existence of an archive in Israel containing the narratives of the victims who survived the Concentration Camps as well as the story of Aktion 1005 – a group of German soldiers who did their best to destroy evidence of the mass murders committed in the name of the Final Solution, are well researched details which provide a realistic basis for this book. Historical novels such as these are important vehicles to remind readers that anti semitism still exists and nationalists are biding their time until their cause can rise again. I still hear rumors that Hitler escaped to Argentina and a Fourth Reich is just waiting to happen.

While authors such as Dan Brown or Robert Ludlum do a better job in this genre, Silva is a credible author with a strong following. Three and a half stars.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

The devastation of war leaves behind many victims consigned to clean up the mess that was once their life. Homeless, both literally and figuratively, they huddle together as refugees in their new countries trying to come to terms with an altered sense of self, brushing aside those clinging memories which must be left in the past if they are to survive in the future.

The title The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien refers to the 11,541 red chairs placed in the center of the capital of Bosnia in 2012, representing each person who died during the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo, small chairs (643) indicating the life of a child. Such a visualization can’t help but move the reader before a single page is even turned. O’Brien’s intent is to haunt us as the story unfolds.

A charismatic stranger, Dr Vladimir Dragan, enters a small town in Ireland, intriguing the locals as he worms his way into the community, setting up shop as an alternative healer. Using his knowledgable background, he mesmerizes the townspeople, gaining their trust, even taking their children out to the countryside to teach them about the natural habitat. Vlad’s expertise in literature and poetry endears him to the members of the book club, gaining him further acceptance. One lonely woman, Fidelma, in a frigid marriage to an older man, desperately wants a child and convinces Vlad to oblige her desires. He reluctantly agrees and during their brief affair he also introduces her to the romance she craves. Verifying her condition, she is left wondering how to explain her predicament to her husband when her lover, afraid of discovery, disappears. Several weeks pass and he reappears, rumpled and mangy, for a previously arranged poetry outing. On the bus filled with townspeople, he is arrested as a master war criminal to the horror of the entire village, but especially to the pregnant Fidelma. Vlad has been on the run for almost twenty years avoiding an arrest for the atrocities he ordered during the Bosnian War, especially during the Siege of Sarajevo. Responsible for the death of thousands in an attempt at ethnic cleansing to remove all the Muslims in Yugoslavia, this man is hated the world over.

Realizing she is carrying this monster’s child, Fidelma wonders how to rid herself of this affliction, but matters are taken out of her hands when she is kidnapped and brutalized for revenge by Vlad’s bodyguards who are livid that they couldn’t claim the huge reward for their former boss’s capture. Just barely escaping death, Fidelma is rejected by her husband and seeks refuge from the nuns at the nearby convent who help her escape to London where she becomes one of the homeless and disenfranchised.

Now a refugee from her own homeland where she no longer feels welcome she must find a new life which includes meeting and hearing the stories of others who also have heartbreaking tales to confess, a string of seemingly unrelated anecdotes sharing a common bond of crimes against humanity. Fidelma meanders through various jobs drifting from one location to another, finally seeing closure by going to The Hague to attend Vlad’s trial and confront her former lover who is unable to admit any responsibility for his actions. Hearing his blame game, she must accept her own guilt in this matter so she can move forward. In a way, she is another war victim of this man. Eventually Fidelma finds some sort of peace with the help of her “new kin”.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this story which is full of literary references and an underlying message. There are many parallels with the author’s life. Edna O’Brien was a poet from a young age who felt a deep connection to literature and ran off with a writer to spite her parents and escape their disapproval, just as Fidelma left her parents to find a better life with an older, wealthier husband. O’Brien, who focuses on the truth, refusing to sugar coat her findings, has habitually found her books banned in Ireland due to the power and control of a church which prefers to deny the foibles of the average man prone to sin. O’Brien believes literature provides a means of escape and uses literary illusions as a parallel to Fidelma’s hardships, with references to classics such as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Heart of Darkness by William Conrad, The Aeneid by Virgil, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare. Including subtle underlying caveats, such as the name Fidelmas which means faithfulness and Vud (Vlad’s nickname) which means wolf, O’Brien’s true genius is in her vignettes revealing that each person has a tale to tell, no matter how reluctant the storyteller.

Carefully researched to bring an authenticity to her writing, O’Brien even attended the trial at The Hague of Radovan Karadzic, the true villain behind the ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War who received a sentence of forty years about a year ago.

This seemingly straightforward book leaves the reader with more questions than answers. While I would have preferred a bit more expository transitions between events, The Little Red Chairs is a poignant narrative reminding us of the evil which still exists in our world manifested, but all too often ignored, in the mantra “Never Forget”.

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.