Book Review: Circumstantial Enemy – My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

The Circumstantial Enemy

“Though his mouth was empty, Tony swallowed. Then he dabbed his lips with his napkin. Goran was right: she was beautiful, but so bitter. Tony reversed the linen’s fold, returned it to his lap, and turned his head toward Katarina.”

The Circumstantial Enemy (Locations 222-224)

The Plot

From Amazon: When Croatia becomes a Nazi puppet state in 1941, carefree young pilot Tony Babic finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome are soon to discover that love and friendship will not circumvent this war’s ideals.

Downed by the Allies in the Adriatic Sea, Tony survives a harrowing convalescence in deplorable Italian hospitals and North African detention stockades. His next destination is Camp Graham in Illinois, one of four hundred prisoner of war camps on American soil.

But with the demise of the Third Reich, repatriation presents a new challenge. What kind of life awaits Tony under communist rule? Will he be persecuted as an enemy of the state for taking the side of Hitler? And then there is Katarina; in letters she confesses her love, but not her deceit… Does her heart still belong to him?

Based on a true story, John Richard Bell’s The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust and revenge. Rich in incident with interludes of rollicking humour, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love and forgiveness.

Writing Style

I had concerns that the author would try to use phonetic spelling to better illustrate accents and pronunciation. I was well pleased when I started reading and there wasn’t very much of that. Where this device was used, it was to highlight something specific, which was entirely appropriate for the narrative. I found the overall writing style comfortable to read, and the narrative easy to follow. With so many different characters and fronts, I was impressed by the author’s ability to give each character a very unique voice within the narrative.

My only “negative” comment is about writing and style, is about the font. I read this book on my Kindle, and the Kindle app on two different laptops. I was incapable of changing the font from what looked to be a digital version of typewriter style text. I don’t think that many readers will find this to be a problem, but as a dyslexic human, I really really struggled to read this book, at times. It was uncomfortable for my brain to follow. This doesn’t affect the story, and it has no bearing on the language but Mr Bell should see if something in the mobi file can be changed that will allow the e-version’s font to be changed by the user.

“With three million Russians reported dead, Tony thought the invasion was near-complete. It was not to be. The rains of fall transformed dusty roads into muddy slop that devoured horses as well as tanks. Winter brought blizzards of thirty below zero. Trucks remained frozen in the mud, boiler water solidified and engine oil hardened.” (Locations 552-554)

“Tony paid little attention to the pretentious blather of head table diners. As he chewed the succulent roast beef, he watched Mauer’s black eyes roving the room. Mauer calmly sliced his meat, chewing longer than everyone else and wearing a contemplative expression, as if seeking the origin of some obscure seasoning.” (Locations 2866-2868)

“While she slept, he sat on the side of the bed next to her, studying her, watching her every breath. For the first time in months, he breathed easy. The woman in his bed had managed to banish the worry of being in a land where he was the enemy.” (Locations 4862-4864)

The Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As an historian, I appreciated the care Mr Bell took in creating the world for the reader. He has the most splendid descriptive way of writing without being verbose or over the top. I found many scenes to be quite emotive, while at other times I could feel how disconnected some characters were feeling from those around them, and their loved ones. I especially enjoyed the Croat perspective of a very well-known, documented and discussed war. As a generation reliant on documentaries, history books and other second hand sources of what WWII was like for the individual, we are never sure of the facts at times. We cannot always know people’s reasons for joining the side that they did, and what other motivations weighed their minds at the time. This novel made me feel like I was shown an entirely new perspective of the war. I know a lot about the Soviet, Italian, British and allied forces motivations for join the war, and even Germany’s, but no-one really talks about the other sovereign or city states who participated and why. This book presents a wonderful “why”.

This was a deeply human story, from many individuals’ perspectives. They did not always see eye to eye but the reader can fully understand why each one acts in the manner of their choosing. The reader may not even agree with those choices but the book never makes you feel like you have to. Regardless of right or wrong, or what is moral, the narrative remains neutral and allows the story to be told. It’s sad and tragic, but at times uplifting and inspiring. I would recommend The Circumstantial Enemy to any reader with an interest in history and WWII, but also people who understand that the world is never a black and white place when it comes to morality and the individual.

My rating: 4½/5

Buy The Circumstantial Enemy on Amazon.

This review was requested by the author.

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