by Judy Bruce
Genres: Historical Fiction
This World War II story, set in western Soviet Union during Germany’s retreat, follows the lives of a Russian war widow, a dissident, Christian, and black marketeer, as she serves as a medic on the front lines, and a disillusioned German lieutenant, a former professor and concentration camp officer, as he fights in a losing effort. After our heroine is forced into service as a navigator in a women’s air force regiment, flying plywood and canvas biplanes on harrowing night missions, she encounters the injured yet violent German when her plane crashes. Together they embark on a turbulent journey, first as enemies, later as lovers and disheartened deserters.
Death Steppe: A World War II Novel by Judy Bruce transports us to western Soviet Union as Germany tries to invade. It follows a Russian war window and a German lieutenant whose paths will eventual cross as they deal with the challenging landscape. Beautiful, brutal and steeped in faith this tale exposes both the horrors of war and the beauty of love.
I have always found novels set during this era to be fascinating even as I try to wrap my head around the atrocities. Bruce brought us two very interesting characters. She delivered a tale that shares the struggles of individuals while giving us a sense of the war itself and its impact. I appreciated her attention to detail and the way in which she brought these characters to life.
Eleana is a Russian widow, who works at the hospital as an aid, but secretly works with the black market. She reads banned American and British literature and believes in God. She finds herself assigned to a hospital near outskirt of the war, and eventually is assigned to the front-line as medic. It seems the fates are against her when she is assigned to be a Night Witch. These female pilots dropped bombs on the Germans forcing them to retreat.For most it was a death sentence flying about in these tin cans. Eleana is strong, passionate and at times fearless. I found her to be remarkable and Bruce did a wonderful job of allowing me to connect and gain insight into what her life must have been like. Bruce’s descriptions of her transformation and internal struggles felt genuine.
Friedrich is a German professor and architect who covers up his disdain for the Third Reich by becoming a German lieutenant. He works at a concentration camp and gives us a harrowing account before he is assigned to fight with troops invading Russia. Friedrich is not as strong of a character as Eleana. He does what he must in order to survive. One cannot help but question how we would handle the situation. Is he a coward or survivor?
The two accidentally meet and find themselves holding up on a Russian farm during Russia’s harsh winter. It was fascinating seeing these two enemies relying on each other and discovering how very different the other is from their own preconceived notions and of course, from the propaganda their leaders have fed them. A friendship forms out of necessity and soon they are confessing their sins and darkest fears. The two become lovers and eventually hatch a plan to desert and escape together. Their time on the farm felt very genuine from their distrust to their need to feel safe and loved.
Death Steppe: A World War II Novel shares a love story but do not look for happily ever after. Bruce beautifully captures the brutal landscape of war while weaving in the effects upon humanity and individuals. It was sometimes dark, sometimes beautiful, and at times incredibly suspenseful. The words flowed wonderfully allowing me to become completely immersed in their story. While the ending was awash in sadness Bruce also gave us a glimmer of hope befitting such a tale.
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