February 2008

An isolated village at war

By Owen Sheers
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Retrospective history meets dramatic fiction in Resistance, Welsh poet Owen Sheers' first foray into fiction. How would Britain have fared in 1944 if the Allies' invasion of Normandy had failed and Hitler had captured Moscow? What if Britain had been forced to enact plans for a resistance force to counter the invading Germans? Sheers imagines the effects of such a scenario within the rocky walls of the remote Olchon Valley in Wales, as five women awaken to discover that all the men among them have left during the night, and soon six war-weary German soldiers arrive on a reconnaissance mission.

The story centers on a cleverly imagined interplay between the abandoned women and the uprooted soldiers. Sheers draws from his own childhood in the valley as well as his intricate research into Britain's resistance plans to create a plausible alternate universe. Even as Resistance suspends historical fact for the subjunctive, its true focal point lies in the characters' experiences of isolation and struggle. Resistance is lavishly written, with details of the landscape and the hardships of rural life that bolster the plot without overburdening it. Sheers achieves intensity and depth with carefully crafted scenes and characters. The domestic and military elements of war intersect, particularly in the characters of Sarah Lewis and Albrecht Wolfram. Sarah is a young wife doggedly clinging to the hope of her husband's return, struggling to maintain the household crops and flock despite wartime restrictions, a harsh winter and her husband's absence. Albrecht, the German commanding officer, arrives in the valley numbed by war but intent on reviving his humanity and intellectualism.

Resistance is a novel of dichotomies: the beautiful and benevolent yet harsh and ominous landscape; the soldiers young and hopeful yet marred by experience and entangled in the mechanics of war. Sheers' realistic portrayal of individuals' resistance—to the hardening of war and to the loss of a sense of self—make Resistance a debut glimmering with intrigue and promise.

Jackie Hansom, a former middle-school language arts teacher, lives in Nashville.

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By Owen Sheers
Nan Talese
ISBN 9780385522106

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