Owen Sheers poses a fascinating scenario in Resistance, that of a world bought to its knees by the incredible power and military might of Nazi Germany. Set in the isolated Olchon Valley area of Wales, this novel envisions events in 1944 when the allied troops have failed to halt the advances of the German forces and the enemy has been able to cross the English Channel and invade Britain.
As the German forces steadily advance through the Southern part of the country, moving to surround an embattled yet steadfastly militant London, the members of Olchon Valley farming community here the bad news that has been filtering into the valley every day for the last few weeks. First there are the failed landings in Normandy and then the German counterattack, and the pages of the newspapers dark with the print of casualty lists.
London is swollen with people fleeing north from the coast. Certainly the twenty-seven year old Sarah misses her husband Tom, when she awakes one morning and finds him gone. Now seemly abandoned in a world gone sour, Sarah and other women of the Olchon Valley - Maggie and the fragile Mary Griffiths - embark on an empty vigilance for some sign, some hidden message, their long rides up on the hills forever facing up to a blank answer.
After thirty years of marriage, Maggie had never known her husband William to leave the cows un-milked, but now she knows with a terrible certainty that their husbands had gone and they're not coming back. Even as Mary Griffiths sends out her daughter Bethan on a pony to look, Sarah's is reluctant to accept the story that appears unfolding before them all in the form of a pamphlet, The Countryman's Diary - 1944 and the realization that their husbands had not been who they thought they were.Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Powerful and very accomplished debut novelMarch 11 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an extremely powerful story set in the imagined backdrop of an invaded and Nazi-occupied Britain, from 1944 onwards... an alternative outcome for the Second World War which could quite conceivably have come true. After failed D-Day landings the German invasion begins in earnest on British soil and this story unfolds as the country gradually becomes another occupied territory of the Third Reich - herein lies its power and horror.
One morning, in one of the most remote valleys in the Black Mountains on the English-Welsh border, twenty-six-year-old Sarah Lewis awakes unusually late in the day to find her husband has disappeared. Suspicions are confirmed as all the women in the valley meet to find that all seven men in the valley have literally vanished overnight. The women fear that their husbands have joined an underground resistance group... and they are left to tend their farms, taking on the full heavy workload previously undertaken by the men.
Fear and mistrust envelops them when a German patrol arrives in the valley on an important mission, until an uneasy truce is formed from a mutual need for help during the harsh frozen winter months in this isolated valley of the Black Mountains. The men in the patrol are war-weary and glad of their respite from the fighting; the women are struggling with their workloads.... both sides have a tendency to forget that there is a war on, and this could be a very dangerous thing to forget indeed.
Owen Sheers (also poet) writes in a beautifully lyrical way, vividly bringing to life the Olchon valley. The power of the novel lies in its ability to shock, as the slow realisation gradually dawns that this outcome could have been the one to come true... An idea that stays with you long after turning the last page. I did hestiate before giving it 5 stars because I didn't find it quite as compelling a read in the first half, as in the second; the pace was slightly lacking. However, what it loses in pace it really does make up for in prose and description.
A good read for anyone. I'd especially recommend it for young students of the Second World War, if only to see the Nazi occupation of other European countries in a different light, and perhaps even bring their history more vividly alive.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Psychology of AcceptanceApril 13 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Perhaps the title is a bit misleading as suggested by NY Times reviewer Jess Row. The book is not so much about "resistance" in the classic WWII thriller mode -- no underground partisan night-fighters, blowing up bridges and rail lines and such -- but rather it is about the concept of resistance and the necessity of acquiescence in the face of tough choices. Sarah and Albrecht, the main characters are sane and lovely people, the kind of intelligent, sensitive human beings you wish all your distant relatives were. The other main characters are, for the most part, farm women neighbors of Sarah, in a remote, harsh, beautiful valley in Wales. Two or three of the 6 German soldiers are actually sensitive normal men. The novel is a fascinating hypothetical scenario of reversed history, the unimaginable German occupation of Britain in 1944.
The most gorgeous and heart-wrenching theme is a loving portrayal of community: sharing, helping, taking risks, sacrificing and giving to one's friends and neighbors during crisis, upheaval and loss. The isolated German soldiers participate fully in the developing communal saga in this tiny, cut-off community with the husband-less women. Not since Arturo Perez-Reverte's powerful women in "The Nautical Chart" and "Queen of the South" have we seen such backbone, ethics and power in fictional female characters.
What makes NOT knowing what happened to loved ones create a tenacious and fanciful set of explanations? Why do some people move quickly to adapt while others languish in the past remembrance? Why is "resistance" commonly thought -- improbably -- to be a masculine trait? The women in this book put a quick end to that idea. Sheers is a really good writer. He blends detailed and graphic narrative with sparse dialogue. He lets a reader see what is not said, and can paint a portrait of, say, a man and woman sitting on a stone wall, feeling the tension between them build. The denouement happens quickly, near the end of the book, by virtue of an idiotic act of vengeance by a minor and weak character, but through his cowardice, Sheers brings the story to a rapid conclusion.
The book jacket is quite misleading and inaccurate. There is no "traditional" love affair between Albrecht and Sarah whatsoever, only the suggestion of it, and there is no sex at all. The 2 principals don't even touch each other for the first 225 pages! What makes "Resistance" a good story? Ordinary people reconciling their hopes and dreams with reality, that's what. The dozen people who populate the story are you and me, down-to-earth and overwhelmed by their sudden, devastating and unwelcome fate.
Other reviewers are partly right: The prose is somewhat clunky, overwritten and overly detailed, and Sheers gets self-aborbed at times in a 2-page aside. There's too much about Bach and other insignificant trivia. Is Sheers a better poet than novelist? It's too early to tell, of course, but if any critic of "Resistance" were to pen his or her first novel as well as Sheers has his first in this story, then there would be little criticism indeed. "Resistance" is a good book, a compelling story. It's hard to put down, easy to pick up, and in the end I really wanted to know what happened to all those who remained behind as well as to Sarah and Albrecht, willing to them success against all odds as they fled. The last lines leave you wanting more.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
good idea, good setting, but slow at timesMarch 11 2008
David W. Straight
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a promising debut novel. It starts with the assumption that the invasion of Normandy failed and that the Germans invaded England. This idea has been done before, but here, rather than a lurid Red Dawn approach, the setting is an isolated valley in Wales. Overnight, all the men of the village (all 7, as I recall) disappear one night, presumably to join a resistance movement, and leaving the women to cope for themselves. The women, who were not informed of the plan by the menfolk, adjust in a variety of ways.
If things had been left at that level, we could have a mostly quiet tale of deeply rural life in Occupied England. But the author also weaves in the story of George, a young man who is recruited for the resistance at the time of the first invasion threat in 1941. Then a German patrol led by Albrecht Wolfram enters the valley on an undisclosed mission. So the story becomes primarily that of the women and the Germans, with perhaps about 10% devoted to George and his leader. Eventually, the reason for the patrol is made clear, but in retrospect the reason seems a little far-fetched: I would have much preferred something simpler, more believable.
The author explains (through Wolfram) why the Normandy invasion failed. I don't think that there was any need to do this: the explanation comes at a time when you've either accepted the basic premise, in which case you don't need an explanation, or else you don't buy the idea, and the explanation doesn't help. Moreover, if you want to look at technical details, the Germans in 1944 lacked the means to carry out an invasion (which also requires huge logistical planning), so that whole aspect should have been left to the imagination and not explained. I am also not comfortable with the mindset that lets the Germans stay in the village rather than rejoining their unit. If Wolfram planned to remain in the village from the start, he certainly picked the right men for the patrol. But there isn't any indication that this was the plan, and in that case I would expect one or more of the Germans to try to return to their regiment rather than stay in the village. So there are some things here which do not feel quite right. But still--it's a quiet story, and the blood and gore of war is mostly remote. I suspect that most authors might try to sex things up--more heroic fighting and sacrifice. But the alternative here works very satisfactorily.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Artful and imaginitive story focused on human emotionMarch 17 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Imagine a different turn of events in WWII. D-day was not a surprise and not a success. The eastern front did not challenge Hitler. The Americans were not the presiding force. The Germans invaded England.
Now imagine Sarah Lewis, a Welsh woman who wakes one morning to find her husband gone. She finds that all the men in this small, isolated valley are gone - left to join the resistance without a word to those left behind. When a German patrol comes to the Olchon valley, the women are resistant. But as the days, weeks and months roll on the lines of war grow confused, weary. The relative peace in the valley offers refuge to the Germans. The women are stretched thin to keep their farms running with fewer resources. Together these two opposing sides will find commonality if not friendship. Tensions build as the war encroaches and the impossibility of carrying on in isolation surfaces. Owen Sheers offers a thoughtful, intriguing ending that will not disappoint, but will also come unexpected.
Owen Sheers has written a beautiful story, rich with complex characters and difficult situations. His description of setting is artful, providing the reader with a lovely, peaceful outlet in the midst of a world war. Lisa Ard Author of Fright Flight, Dream Seekers Book One
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Winning Combination of Research and ImaginationFeb. 23 2010
Rather Be Reading
- Published on Amazon.com
Not only does this book conjure a different and frightful fate for England during WWII, it eerily brings home the confusion of war for both the soldiers and the civilians. The author has created a time and place out of time and out of place. The setting is like a character itself - the beautifully rendered farming village on the English/Welsh border. The reader can feel the breeze, hear the sheep and climb amongst the rocks along with the characters. The first half of the book does move slowly, but that is because the author is meticulously laying his foundation for what is to come. Slowly but surely, as the lives of the German male soldiers and the female civilians merge, so does the line between enemies blur and the reader is left to ponder the inexplicitness of war. There are no real answers here, just a deep and pondering look at the way humans are interdependent, and how that is a good thing. In a race to finish the book, the reader discovers that some of the mysteries are resolved, some aren't - leaving us to do some imagining of our own. A device that insures this story will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.