Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Undesirables by Chad Thumann

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 6, 2016

In the winter of 1941–1942, Leningrad is under siege, and Karen Hamilton, a seventeen-year-old American musician, finds herself trapped and struggling to survive. Throughout the city, people are dying of starvation and frostbite, and Karen knows that if she doesn’t escape immediately, she will share their fate. If she has any hope of leaving Russia and reuniting with her fiancé, Bobby, in New York, she must do the impossible: cross enemy lines and then stow away. On her harrowing journey, Karen encounters Petr, a young conscripted Russian soldier. She isn’t sure she can trust him—he is equally wary of her. But as the two join forces in order to stay alive, an unexpected romance takes root. Now, as Karen gets closer to the reality of escape, she has a choice to make: Will she return to a safe life in America with Bobby, or remain in war-torn Russia with Petr?

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Chad Thumann’s The Undersireables stood out. WWII fiction is easy enough to find, but stories set in Russia aren’t as common as those set in England, Germany, or France and I captivated and intrigued by the premise presented in the jacket description. I’d never heard of the author, but I took a chance in requesting it and was happy to receive an ARC from Lake Union Publishing.

Historically speaking, the novel is breathtaking. Thumann’s descriptions of Leningrad are stark, but I was thoroughly impressed by how the author captured the realities of the situation through the eyes of a stranded American woman. I also appreciated how he balanced the challenges faced by civilians against the action and brutality of survival on the front lines. The details are fascinating and I think Thumann did an amazing job recreating the period for his readers.

I found the cast interesting, but slightly less dynamic. Karen is driven, but she is also selfish and rather single-minded. I didn’t admire her at all and frequently found myself rolling my eyes over her decisions. Petr had moments, but I found his character one dimensional and Bobby had potential, but he was noticeably less developed than the other narrators and I thought that damaged the intensity of the love triangle at the heart of the story. That said, I was quite impressed with members of the supporting cast. Inna, Sasha, Lenka, Krause, and Duck fascinated me and I found myself intrigued by the personalities and story lines Thumann created for them.

The pacing lent an addictive quality to the text and I found myself oddly satisfied with both climax and conclusion of the narrative. The Undersirables is a very different kind of war story, but I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with it and can easily see myself recommending it to other readers. 

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Those people who could not work efficiently—the slackers or naturally slovenly—should be eliminated. As Oster saw it, these people were the Russians, Bolsheviks, partisans, bohemians, and anyone else who didn’t agree with official German policy. These were the so-called undesirables. And it was good and proper that Oster and his companions were ridding the world of them. The world would become a more efficient, and more pleasant, place to live.
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Elizabeth Buck said...

Sounds very intriguing!

Anonymous said...

This sounds great, and exactly like the kind of book I could recommend to so many people. I haven't visited your site in a while, and now I find I can't leave! :-D

Erin Davies said...

How wonderful! I'm so glad this post helped you both find something interesting. :)