‘He knew he was lucky. The rest of the battalion had been surrounded near Korsun. Some of them must have got out – some always did. But he heard nothing from anyone. Perhaps they had just been swallowed up by the winter snow. Perhaps he was the last of them.’
The Constant Soldier is a novel that has been on my horizon for quite some time. Originally published in August 2016, I was incredibly lucky to be forwarded a copy of the latest edition, published in June 2017, by the author William Ryan.
The basis of this novel is rooted in some very special images discovered in a photo album that was originally belonging to Karl-Friedrich Hoecker, a member of the SS during WW2.
An historical novel, William Ryan has written a book that will stay with you long after you finish……..here’s why…
1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.
When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut.
For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her…
Paul Brandt returns home from the front as a result of horrific injuries received in battle. A political activist before war broke out, Paul’s entry to the German army was not a choice that he made himself. His hand was forced due to his beliefs. It is with quite a shock that Paul arrives back to his village to find the, now infamous, rest hut used by the SS staff from Auschwitz , in very close proximity to his family home.
When William Ryan happened upon a collection of pictures, now known as The Hoecker Album, he discovered over 100 photographs that portrayed images of the living conditions of many SS officers during their ‘break’ from the horrors of the camps. Absolutely fascinating imagery which I highly recommend you take a look at HERE (Courtesy of The Guardian)
Using these images William Ryan set about writing the story of the last days of WW2, before the Russians arrived in 1945, with Paul Brandt as the main protagonist. The Constant Soldier is not an historical novel recounting the terror of Auschwitz but it is the story of the rest hut and the people who passed through it and also those who worked there.
Paul’s facial features have changed beyond recognition due to the injuries he now carries. In passing the rest hut one day he is convinced he sees a female prisoner that he knows from before the war. During his protesting days, Paul was oft times in the company of a woman, known only to him by her code name. This prisoner, though somewhat ravaged, looks very like her. Could it be her? How can he be sure?
Paul has never been comfortable as a soldier. The horrors he witnessed and the actions he took during battle have left a deeper scar within him, deeper than any physical scar and now that he is home he plans to make amends.
The rest hut is in need of a steward, a person who can coordinate the smooth running of things while the SS Officers concern themselves with just rest and relaxation. This is an opportunity that Paul cannot refuse. In taking up the position, Paul faces many risks but to him they are small. He ingratiates himself with the SS residents and soon he is an indispensable member of staff.
This is where this book deviates so completely for me from any book within this historical genre/era that I have read in the past. Paul Brandt is a German soldier with a very strong conscience. Disgusted and appalled by the acts of violence inflicted by his fellow countrymen, Paul is compelled to act. His thoughts, his beautiful relationship with his father, his faltering relationship with his sister, all make for a very emotive and emotional read. The strength of his beliefs and his tenacity to work through many difficult situations, with huge risk to his own safety, shows such courage and perseverance.
William Ryan has written a haunting novel.
In writing The Constant Soldier William Ryan has stated that he did take some artistic license in describing the luxury of the rest hut as he ‘wanted to show it as a privileged bubble in amongst the rationing and privation faced by most of the surrounding population’ . The images alone that are featured in The Hoecker Album are a testament to this bubble that William Ryan alludes to. The joy and happiness, the fun expressions on the faces of the German army, both men and women, is incongruous with the distressing images we normally associate with Auschwitz.
Paul Brandt, while a fictional character, is portrayed so vividly by William Ryan.
The word constant is defined as meaning ‘
A powerful novel. A spellbinding story, depicted through the use of such eloquent language, highlighting the final days and subsequent collapse of the Nazi regime.
Highly recommend to all…
Purchase Link ~ The Constant Soldier
Meet The Author:
William Ryan is an Irish writer, living in London.
William’s first novel, The Holy Thief, was shortlisted for a Crime Writer’s Association New Blood Dagger, a Barry Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.
His second novel, The Bloody Meadow was shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and his third, The Twelfth Department, was also shortlisted for the Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year as well as the CWA’s Historical Fiction Dagger.
His latest novel, The Constant Soldier, was described as “a modern classic by a master storyteller” in The Lancashire Evening Post. (Courtesy of Amazon)
Website ~ https://www.william-ryan.com/
Twitter ~ @WilliamRyan_