Monday, December 5, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Winter Sky by Chris Stewart


In a bombed-out Polish village during World War II a young resistance fighter finds that he is suddenly alone and trapped between two opposing armies. He is one of Poland's "Devil's Rebels" fighting desperately to save his homeland, but an injury has erased his memory and his only possession is a torn photograph of a couple he assumes are his parents. The woman appears to be holding the hand of a young child whose image has been ripped off. Could the child be him?

Caught in the crosshairs of the retreating German army and the advancing Russian forces, the village holds nothing but destruction and despair until a mysterious young woman offers a small glimmer of hope that may represent his last chance - news of a refuge train departing from a nearby town headed for American installations at the border. But complications arise when the resistance fighter is betrayed by his own countryman and hunted by German SS Officers who are determined to kill him before they retreat.

Desperately searching for a home and family he can't remember he is persuaded to rescue two children who are doomed to die without his help.

As time runs out the former rebel is faced with an impossible choice. Standing at the crossroads of saving himself or risking his life for strangers, what would motivate a young man at the brink of salvation to make one more sacrifice?


Chris Stewart has written a compelling story about a little known time and place.  Many World War II stories focus on the fighting, or the different fronts of the war, Russia, France, Italy, etc.  I have never read a story before that takes a look at the Polish fighters who resisted the Germans after their country had already been overrun.  In a surprisingly few pages (less than 200), Stewart takes the reader into a country teetering on the edge of disaster.  After so many years of war, no town is left untouched, people struggle to find enough to eat or even a place to sleep.  The Germans are on the cusp of leaving, but the Russians offer no hope to the suffering people.  And appearing in the midst of all this is a young resistance fighter, who finds himself in a town that is supposedly his with no memory of who he is and only a few flashbacks of where he has come from.  His only clue to his identity is an old photograph he carries in his pocket.  As he moves through town hoping for something to remind him of who he is, he finds himself in an old church where he meets a beautiful young lady named Melina, who gives him something to fight for.  But Colonel Muller, the local German commander hates the rebels with a passion and refuses to leave until this young man has been captured and killed, no matter how dangerously close it puts him and his men to the Russians.  With only one hope left, the young man sets off with two young children to find a refugee train heading towards the American lines.  But with the difficult winter conditions and a freezing river ahead, and the Germans behind, their chances of survival aren't good at all.  I was amazed at how much of story the Stewart manages to create in this relatively short book.  In addition to the young man, we meet Zarek, a man whose willing to betray his own people, so his family can survive; we meet Antoni, a young former rebel, whose missing a leg, whose willing to sacrifice himself to save a town, and we meet Melina, a young woman who is not exactly what she seems.  This is a book that tugs at the heartstrings.  It wasn't easy reading about all the suffering that war brings, often to the innocent.  Yet it's also a story of finding hope and courage, and a reason to keep fighting even where there appears to be none.  I can highly recommend this book for those who enjoy those kinds of stories that stay with one long after you put it down.


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