Synopsis: Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “No man and no force can abolish memory.” John Oakes and Kurt Fournier are living proof of the truth behind those words. Since the horrors of the Second World War, John and Kurt have been trudging through existence, bleeding from wounds that have never healed. Now they’re at the crossroads of the 1950s: the war may be over, but the battle to find lasting peace has just begun.
John, a PhD student at UC Berkeley and a battle-hardened veteran, floats through his postwar life until he catches the mysterious Kurt secretly playing a university piano. John thinks he may find comfort in Kurt’s company but doesn’t know how to connect with a man who lives a life of such careful solitude. Guilt and regret threaten to cripple their hopes for a normal life. No man is an island, so John and Kurt must risk their hearts to find happiness. Unfortunately, memories and enduring fears can paralyze even the strongest man. – via goodreads
Review: I don’t know if there’s anything I can say about this one that could do it justice. In fact, I had to give it a couple days to sink in so I could even try – and I’m still pretty sure I’ll fail. This is a powerful read and it made me feel a range of emotions from angry to sad, rage, relief, amazement, and just plain heartbreak. It made me forget that I don’t even like historical reads.
I should probably have prefaced this by stating that i didn’t choose this book, it was chosen for me as part of a reading challenge – otherwise I probably never would have picked it up. I’m so glad I did though. This novel has two parallel storylines, flipping back and forth between 1941 & 1951, which is a difficult feat to pull off effectively, but Kilney does it flawlessly.
It starts in 1951, where we meet John Oakes, a seasoned war veteran plagued with severe PTSD (known as shellshock in this time period.) He’s a simple man whose only desires are to find someone to share his life with and to quiet his nightmares. He’s a student at UC – Berkley, studying Political Science and pursing his PhD when he first meets Kurt, a janitor at Berkley, who tries very hard to remain invisible in order to survive each day – trapped in nightmares of his own. They run into each other when John discovers beautiful piano music as he’s walking the halls to avoid going home to restless sleep; and are eventually brought together with the help of Kurt’s only friend, Jules.
As the story unfolds, we’re transported back to 1941 in Austria, where a gay Kurt is 20 years old, and just finding himself. He’s always been a gifted pianist and begins rehearsing for a concert where he meets his first love, Peter. The relationship they begin is forbidden, but also so very addictive. Peter is vibrant and full of love, things Kurt has never been exposed to in his sheltered life and he can’t help but cling to them and Peter with everything he has.
There is so much depth and breadth to this story that I couldn’t possibly be able to cover it all in this review and including any spoilers would dampen the powerful impact on how the events of the past influence those of the future. Both men are traumatized by their pasts. But with great effort, together they are able to put those ghosts to rest and find the peace they so desperately crave. This is one of those novels where you truly feel that the ending is deserved and earned.
I can’t say enough about this book. It is not a pleasant read, nor should it be. Some things can never, and will never be acceptable. Looking through Kurt and John’s eyes, we get an up close and personal look at one of the worst times in human history. And while it may be fiction, it both felt and affected me as if it were real. Big, fat, ugly tears at times. I’m not a history buff, so I can’t really comment on the veracity of the events, but it does appear that it was heavily researched and handled with a deft and delicate hand.
I have always loved romances with damaged characters, I’m sure I’ve said that once or twice. I think you will find though, that this book will give you new meaning to those words. Even if you don’t like historical fiction/romance, I highly recommend you give it a try.