Tuesday 11 June 2024

Book Review - Between the Clouds and the River by Dave Mason

 Between the Clouds and the River
By Dave Mason
1942: Twenty-four year old Bernhardt Lang is swept along by the currents of war, until an unexpected ally helps him live a life of his own making, in a place he could never have imagined himself existing.

1965: Twelve year old Joseph Holliman is drowning in a life no one should have to endure. When he crosses paths with Frank Gardner, everything he thinks he knows about the meaning of family is changed.

Between the Clouds and the River is a journey from the burning sands of war-torn North Africa to the forested, snow-capped mountains of Montana and British Columbia, a compelling and emotional tale of deception, revelation, identity, and belonging that reminds us all that love is the only truth.

Germany was the superior country, and victory was assured - that is what Bernhardt Lang had been led to believe. Bernhardt had no desire to participate in the war; he was tired of others dictating his actions. However, upon his capture by the Allied forces, he was taken aback by the respectful treatment the Americans showed towards their German prisoners.

Even though he was just twelve, Joseph Holliman had a much tougher time than the other children in his class. With the strike of a match, and the help of an old, falling down, shed, Joseph finds himself indebted to Frank Gardner – after all, he had burnt down his shed. It was arranged that Joseph would go with Frank every Saturday, and help him rebuild the shed.

The search for identity in Between the Clouds and the River by Dave Mason is beautifully portrayed through the captivating journeys of Joseph and Bernhardt.

While the conditions are better than expected, Bernhardt still faces difficulties as a prisoner of war. While they were given adequate nourishment and medical care, they were still assigned work tasks, and Bernhardt soon became proficient in logging and chopping down trees. Although he admired the efficient management of the American prisoner-of-war camps, he couldn’t escape the fact that he was still a captive, under someone else’s command. The only thing Bernhardt desired in life was the ability to determine his own path and have full autonomy over his choices. Upon the announcement of the war’s conclusion and the release of all POWs, Bernhardt was overcome with panic. He had spent years trying to escape his home, and who knew what was left of it to go back to. Remaining in America appeared more beneficial, as it offered the chance to start anew and have control over one’s mind and actions.  

Following Bernhardt as he attempted to blend into the world around him was fascinating. Thankfully, he had some knowledge of English but had a significant journey ahead to completely hide his past and true identity. He worked diligently to mimic others, suppressing his German words and accent. With the help of Helen, who escaped the confines of the camp with him, Bernhardt became John, and together they drew a line between their old and new lives. Bernhardt’s ability to adapt to a new life while fearing recapture and deportation to Germany, after the war, was truly inspiring. Although Bernhardt faced challenging situations that made it appear he was not capable of convincingly posing as an American, his perseverance and resolve consistently helped him overcome the most difficult circumstances.

Contrary to the common portrayal of Germans as villains in World War Two stories, this novel challenges readers to consider different perspectives on history. Historians tend to present one side of the story more favourably than the other, shaping the perspective. It is a welcome change to read a WWII novel that presents a German soldier’s perspective of wanting to distance himself from the Nazi ideology and simply lead a quiet existence. Bernhardt’s admirable kindness and intelligence make it impossible not to sympathize with him, as he is reluctantly drawn into a world of violence. 

Despite his initial apprehension, Joseph soon discovered that his time at Frank’s was enjoyable and allowed him to acquire practical expertise. The shed was being fixed almost too quickly, and Joseph found himself desperately trying to hold onto those Saturdays, wishing that they would last for longer and that he didn’t have to go back home. The atmosphere at home was far from enjoyable, as Joseph’s father enforced strict discipline through both harsh words and physical reprimands, while his mother had departed many years ago. At home, Joseph lived in constant fear of his father’s wrath, knowing that one small mistake could trigger his anger, and he had no choice but to endure it until it passed. However, Frank’s house presented a contrasting atmosphere. Joseph had the opportunity to acquire valuable skills from Frank, such as building and mastering the art of hammering nails. Frank also encouraged his creativity. Joseph loved to read, and so Frank provided him with books to read, and stories to escape into, setting his imagination free to come up with worlds of his own. 

Joseph and Bernhardt’s narratives intertwine beautifully. Initially, it’s hard to grasp the connection between two people leading completely different lives, but as the story unfolds, similarities emerge, revealing that they share a common struggle. Although leading different lives, at different ages, and in different years, both of them find themselves caught in circumstances they long to break free from. They must fight to discover their own paths and remain steadfast before others intervene. 

A fight for survival, spanning through the ages, Between the Clouds and the River by Dave Mason is a deep-felt story of identity, whether trying to find and display it, or hide it deep down to stay alive. Carefully crafted, this novel delves into the journey of self-discovery and finding one’s true place in the world. This is the type of novel that you’ll want to savour while reading, one that you won’t want to rush through, as you won’t want to reach the end and have nothing left to read. The story is exquisitely told and the characters are unforgettable. I highly recommend it. 

Coming Soon...

Dave Mason

Born in England and raised in Canada, Dave Mason is an internationally recognized graphic designer and a cofounder of a number of software companies. His first novel, EO-N, is the recipient of twenty-one literary awards including the Hemingway Award for 20th Century Wartime Fiction, and has been acquired for film and television. He divides his time between Chicago, Illinois, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. 

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  1. Congratulations on your fabulous review.

  2. Between the Clouds and the River sounds brilliant. Do you have a release date yet?

  3. Thanks! Should be available by June 30, 2024.

  4. What a lovely review, congratulations!


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