Review of “The Last Green Valley” by Mark Sullivan

I’m trying out “Kindle Unlimited” to read a range of novels by different authors. I don’t have a preference so don’t expect any excited reviews like, “I loved it!” Not gonna happen. I rank the books with stars on Amazon, but I don’t give them away; this isn’t kindergarten. A decent, readable book will get three stars (out of five). I’ve noticed something about the review system on Amazon: the more reviews, the higher the ranking. I think there’s a mad rush to outdo the other readers. Of course, I question how many of the reviewers finished the books they’re reviewing; you only have to buy it, not actually finish it to throw in your two-cents worth. These could be virtual ratings…

This is a story about a family of ethnic Germans fleeing from Ukraine in 1944 as the Soviet army is pushing the Wehrmacht back at the close of WW II. They are escorted by the German army to be repatriated to Poland, which was part of the new and improved Fatherland under Hitler. The story was retold to the author by one of the couple’s sons, who participated in the events recounted when he was about ten. Because a lot of details were unknown to the author, he has called this historical fiction rather than biographical. He’s very open about that, even describing which parts were made up in an appendix that was very interesting.

The boring part first. The grammar and punctuation are good, but deteriorate about half-way through (I’ve reported on this phenomenon before). Nothing egregious, however. It’s very readable but like most books nowadays, which aren’t proofread enough by the author, the text goes through phases; one part will be chock full of similes and metaphors, then another repeats common nouns and verbs (which have lots of synonyms), then a particularly emotional thought is repeated again and again and again in different chapters. I was tempted to skip these pages on the tenth go-round, but I didn’t. I read every second thought (or was it the tenth?) in slow motion, anticipating my revenge (this review).

The action scenes are well written, really getting me involved when tanks were rolling, Nazis murdering innocent people, disaster only a moment away, stuff like that. Very exciting. I swear my body temperature dropped several degrees from the visceral way the cold was described. Again, very exciting, and foreboding. Much of the book was like that; even when there was nothing threatening imminent death, I felt the sense of doom enveloping the protagonists.

There were a lot of flashbacks that turned out to be two different, converging threads from the past, recalled by the main characters. This was confusing because a flashback is usually a moment of reflection, dream, etc–a momentary event. These background threads even had dates and places in the chapter headings; later in the book the author started mixing them in with current action. It would have been confusing if the plot had been more complicated.

The characters were rather static as I would expect from a biographical story that only covers a year of two. However, the main character had a somewhat unbelievable return of his religious faith while incarcerated in a Soviet work camp. Nevertheless, I appreciated that the protagonists weren’t portrayed as clever or wise, but only incredibly fortunate.

The author obviously had to come up with a fictional narrative to get through several harrowing moments, not having the adults who lived through the ordeal available to explain. To be honest, I was flabbergasted at several such escapes that were glossed over or portrayed as miracles, another way of avoiding difficult explanations.

The main story covered less than two years. As related, this time period could have been summarized in a short story, but the author wanted to write a novel so they filled (with multiple threads disguised as flashbacks), added a summary at the end of the Martel’s life in America, and tacked on an explanatory appendix. In my opinion, they didn’t want to write a detailed fictional account of a truly harrowing story of persecution and escape because that would have been too difficult, so they copped out and wrote this historical novel instead.

I don’t buy it and I think they didn’t do justice to an experience shared by millions of people at the end of WW II, or millions today, who are going through similar ordeals. That’s a shame because the author has a gift for creating poignant scenes in the midst of danger. I guess they were in a hurry…

This book is an appetizer wrapped in plastic and plated as an unappetizing main course–filet mignon covered with ketchup.

Go ahead and read it but don’t expect too much.

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