Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Night of Flames by Douglas W. Jacobson

The name fell like a sword slicing through her soul. Anna whimpered and slumped in her chair -- then lost control.

She jumped to her feet, and the metal chair clattered to the floor. She ripped the folder out of the stunned officer's hand and swatted him in the face with it. "You g*****n sick bastard," Anna screamed. "Go to hell! Go to hell and be damned!" She flung the folder across the room and sank to her knees sobbing.

Hauptsturmfuhrer Koenig stared at her for a minute, not saying a word. Then he picked up the folder, retrieved his hat and gloves and left the room. (from Night of Flames, page 253)

Night of Flames is a novel set primarily in Poland and Belgium that spans much of World War II. It opens in Warsaw in 1939 at the start of the war, with Anna Kopernik waking up to German bombs. Douglas W. Jacobson begins the story in the midst of the action and never lets up. From the very beginning, Anna is fighting for her life. After her father, a college professor, is taken to a death camp, she fears his ties to a budding resistance group make her a prime target of the Gestapo and SS, so she attempts to make her way out of Poland with her close friend, Irene, and her young son, Justyn, both of whom are Jewish.

Meanwhile, Jan Kopernik, Anna's husband, is serving as an officer in the Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade. He sees his fair share of battles as the Germans invade and occupy Poland, and he narrowly escapes death on several occasions. Eventually, he makes his way to Britain and goes on several undercover missions to Poland and Belgium and forges ties with the resistance. Neither Jan nor Anna know where the other is, and as the war creeps on, they have no idea whether the other is even alive.

Night of Flames is a well-written, well-researched novel, and Jacobson's passion for the subject matter shines through. The plot is very detailed, with chapters shifting from Anna's experiences as a civilian dabbling in resistance work to Jan's experiences as a military officer and undercover agent. Jacobson also focuses on several members of the Belgian resistance and their attempts to derail the German war effort.

Jacobson doesn't delve deep into the characters, and readers don't get to fully know Anna or Jan, but it's important to note that the characters are never seen outside the context of war. Still, I grew attached to the characters, mainly their passion and their selflessness. I'm partial to strong female characters, so naturally, I liked Anna. It takes a one feisty lady to scream at and smack a creepy SS officer!

In many parts, particularly the resistance missions, Night of Flames reminded me of one of my favorite television shows, Hogan's Heroes (well, minus the POWs, anyway), but of course, it went deeper to show the stresses and weariness of war. Jacobson does a great job showing how ordinary people can become heroes in times of distress, and without going into graphic detail, he shows just how horrific war can be for both soldiers and civilians. Night of Flames ranks among the best World War II novels I've read thus far, and I had to slow myself down to savor the story and make it last. I highly recommend this book, and I think even readers who are not WWII history buffs can appreciate it as a story of courage, survival, and enduring love.


Night of Flames is the 21st book I've read for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations. (I can't help myself...there are too many good books in this genre!)

Douglas W. Jacobson visited War Through the Generations in January to discuss the Comet Line, a real-life resistance organization that transported Allied soldiers out of Belgium. In Night of Flames, Anna goes on missions for the Comet Line. Click on these links to read Jacobson's essay: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Night of Flames from McBooks Press for review purposes.


Esme said...

good review I wanted to read this one. I will let you know how The Help is-I just finisihed The PRivate Papers of Eastern Jewel which I loved.

Sandy Nawrot said...

It seems that maybe you liked this one a little more than I did. It definitely had its merits, but to me it came across a little stiff and shallow, compared to some of the other WWII novels I have read this year. It was incredibly well-researched however. You could tell alot of heart was put into finding the facts.

bermudaonion said...

To say that ranks among your favorite WWII books says a lot. It sounds like this book is well worth reading.

Staci said...

Great thoughts on this one Anna. I've never heard of this book and it sounds like a good read especially with the strong female character. I don't like wimps!! :)

Books We Read said...

My blog is giving away jewelry set in exhcange for book reviews. I wonder if you could publish a post to announce the participation info on your blog:

Thank you.

Mark David said...

Wow! 21 books??? Amazing! And this book sounds amazing as well. Nice review :)

I kind of like war dramas so I bet I'll enjoy this one. Is it out already or is it just soon to be released?

Lisa said...

I've enjoyed this one a lot, too!

DCMetroreader said...

I like reading about WWII so this sounds like a great read.

DWJ said...

Thanks to Anna for the thoughtful review and to those of you who have commented. I thought you all may be interested to note that, following publication of the book, I was contacted by an organization in Brussels that keeps alive the memory of the Comet Line resisitance organization I wrote about. Shortly thereafter, I had the pleasure of meeting three surviving Comet Line agents. They are all women, now in their eighties, who survived the concentration camps. They were delighted to learn that an American author told their story in a novel. You can read more about that in my blog,
Douglas W Jacobson

Serena said...

You go girl. I have this one to review in October, though I still have not received the book in the mail yet.

Sounds like another good one for the challenge.

Literary Feline said...

I am glad you liked this one so much, Anna. It definitely sounds like a story well worth reading about. Thanks for your great review.

Mark David said...

Congratulations on a successful book :)

Corinne said...

I loved this one a lot, especially because my Grandfather served in the army in some of the places mentioned in the book :) Great review!

DWJ said...

Yes I'd love to do an interview for the examiner. You can contact me at
Doug Jacobson

Unknown said...

I've been looking for a book based on World War II and I'm glad to find this one :) Nice review!!

Anna said...

~Esme: I'll keep an eye out for your review.

~Sandy: I actually was a bit worried after reading your review. I'm glad you were able to say some good things about the book even if you weren't wowed by it.

~bermudaonion: I do hope you get a chance to read it.

~Staci: I definitely wouldn't call Anna a wimp. (Well, maybe this Anna but not the Anna in the story. LOL)

~Books We Read: Thanks for the link.

~Mark David: It's already out. Hope you get a chance to read it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

~Lisa: Must check out your review!

~DCMetroreader: I hope you give it a chance!

~Doug: Thanks for stopping by! I will be posting your Examiner interview very soon.

~Serena: Let me know if you never receive your copy. You can borrow mine.

~Literary Feline: Thanks! I hope you consider reading it.

~Corinne: Thanks! I love where there are personal connections that make reading a book a richer experience.

~Pratima: Thanks! Hope you get a chance to read it.

Serena said...

We've linked to your review at the war blog here:

Anna said...

~Serena: Thanks!