How Dare the Birds Sing by Marina Osipova

A wartime romance set in Russia and Germany

Fifteen years after the end of World War I and just as Hitler was coming to power, Lyuba and Natasha are walking in a park and meet two men who are enrolled at the flying school. Gunter is German and Germans are still disliked and mistrusted in Russia. Lyuba falls in love with him, although she feels a strong attraction toward his friend, Stepan. One day Gunter is gone. Lyuba assumes he has been called back to Germany but he left with no explanation and she feels betrayed. With Gunter out of the way, Stepan drugs Lyuba, forces sex on her, and then compels her to marry him to protect her and her mother from the secret police. She spends years longing for Gunter, at the same time as trying to reconcile herself to a life with Stepan who she loathes. When World War II breaks out and the Germans invade, she has to face dangers and difficulties far worse than marriage to an unpleasant man.

Stepan has some redeeming features. He truly loves Lyuba and, other than expecting her compliance in bed, doesn’t treat her badly. And when they adopt a little girl, he proves himself a good daddy. The author does a masterful job of turning him from an arrogant brute at the beginning of the book, to a man whose motives and actions (not all of them) we can sympathise with by the end.

At the start of the story, Lyuba is a sweet, naïve seventeen year-old with a future in teaching ahead of her. But she has to learn other skills in order to survive. Throughout the war years, she is the victim of circumstances again and again, and the reader is carried along from one tense situation to another. None of those situations stretch credulity.

World War stories are not my favourite reading, but I enjoyed this one. Love, loss, tragedy, pathos – it’s all there – with plenty of action added to the mix. I was enthralled throughout. An excellent book and the author will go on my tbr list.

Highly recommended

*****

A Blossom in the Ashes by Ron Singerton

This World War II epic is a sequel to A Cherry Blossom in Winter, which I read, reviewed and enjoyed.

With a Japanese mother and Jewish/Russian father, Tadichi learns a harsh lesson in bigotry when he confesses his mixed heritage to the girl he hopes to marry and is unceremoniously dumped. Twelve years later, he is still unmarried, a fighter pilot and on Oahu where his mother lives. There he meets his brother, Koizumi, who he hardly knows and who is also a fighter pilot in the Japanese navy. With him is the beautiful Sayuri and his mother’s old friend. But Koizumi isn’t on Oahu merely to accompany the two ladies. He has a mission which will pit him against his brother in the coming war. To complicate matters further, both men are in love with Sayuri.

The story contains some of the components of the last book – lovers of different cultures torn apart by war; battle scenes which include, in this case, Pearl Harbour from the Japanese perspective; the suffering of civilians on the fringes of war. This one has a broader sweep than the first book.

The author has cleverly set his characters in different countries to show different perspective and the impact of war on other peoples. There are the two naval pilots, Tad and Koizumi, zipping through the ether on opposite sides. Through them the author reveals his knowledge of the planes of the day and aerial combat. The air and sea battles are exciting without being overly-lengthy or too detailed. We see Sayuri alone in Tokyo when it is mercilessly bombed and when the atom bombs are dropped on unsuspecting populations just as Japan is on the point of surrender. Tad’s mother is a nurse in Hawai’i. His father is in Russia when war breaks and must make his way west to Germany and the allies. His friend Jeremy, an American of Japanese descent, becomes a prisoner of war, escapes when the ship he is on is sunk, and provides some of the most edge-of-the-seat adventures in the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this action-packed book, but I must mention one thing. The opening chapter is set twelve years before the main action and deals with Tad’s girlfriend and her parents’ horror when he tells them of his Japanese/Jewish heritage. They immediately make it clear that he is not wanted. I expected that this kind of bigotry would be explored later in the book, but it wasn’t, which left me confused about why it was included.

****

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