He no longer thought as a soldier because he had been a soldier. He had seen too much. And now he had to choose again. Which of these men would he take? To which of them would he grant an alternative future? What that future was, he couldn’t say. -From Resistance, page 24-
What if the D-Day landings had failed? What if London had fallen and Britain been occupied by Nazi forces? What if instead of an Allied victory, World War II had gone another way? These are the questions which writer Owen Sheers asks and answers in his debut novel Resistance. The novel unfolds in 1944 in a tiny Welsh valley when four women awake to find their husbands gone – no warning, no explanation except for a tattered manual which implies the men have left to become part of an organized underground resistance against the impending Nazi occupation. Maggie (an older woman with strength of heart and body), Mary (struggling to raise her teenage daughter after her son has been killed in the war), Menna (a young mother with two toddlers), and Sarah (with dreams of a future in the rolling Welsh hills) come together to help and support each other on their farms. Determined to survive until their men return, they are shocked to discover a Nazi patrol in the valley. When winter arrives earlier than expected, the fragile balance between these two groups is shaken and changed.
Resistance is a fully imagined, beautifully constructed novel about grief and survival during wartime. Sheers has won the Eric Gregory Award and the Vogue Young Writer’s Award for his first poetry collection, and the lyrical language in Resistance reminds the reader of those literary roots. As the seasons progress, bringing with them changes between the women and the Nazi soldiers, the reader is treated to graceful descriptions of the Welsh countryside with all its colors, smells, and sights. The brutality of the environment is mixed with its beauty, creating a backdrop which is perfect for the plot. Sheers builds tension between the characters gradually, revealing their motivations with the fine touch of an artist. Albrecht Wolfram, the German Captain, defies the stereotype of the Nazi soldier. Sheers shows his humanity lost in his role as soldier, and in doing so allows for sympathy and understanding. Likewise, in revealing the women’s strengths, Sheers also exposes their fears and weaknesses which creates characters of depth who are fully realized.
The story does not tie up all the ends; it is not predictable. In leaving the ending open, Sheers allows the reader to reach her own conclusions. Although some will not appreciate the subtleness of this, I found it to be the appropriate choice for the novel.
Sheers is a young writer, and he shows great promise with this debut novel. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.
Resistance is highly recommended.