One of the ultimate tests of a book for me is the ability of the story to cause some sort of vocal exclamation that is followed quickly by a glance around to make sure no one heard me. Then again, if someone does hear me, I would be able to tell her to read the book that made me exclaim. That would be good too.
Unfortunately and fortunately, no one heard me gasp “holy crap!” while I was reading Victoria Dougherty’s THE BONE CHURCH. So consider this review my exclamation and read it to mean that you too should read this book immediately.
Dougherty’s novel has so many things that appeal to my inherent curiosity about the fiction that can come from the middle of the twentieth century, i.e. World War II and the decade or two following it. Joseph Goebbels plays a supporting role that is entirely believable based on what I’ve learned about him, the story focuses on a Catholic man married to a Jewish woman after Hitler takes over Czechoslovakia, and the Vatican at large plays a hazy, dark role that entirely fits with the conspiracy theories about what the Catholic church knew and did during the years of the war and the Communism that followed. Essentially, THE BONE CHURCH is history in a novel.
For me, there is no better sort of story.
It is the story of Felix Andel and his would-be Jewish bride Magdalena as they struggle to keep two steps ahead of the Nazis in Prague. No one can doubt that Felix would to anything for the woman he loves, even helping to hide her and her mother and later being part of a plot to assassinate Goebbels. Along the way, the couple befriends a Gypsy named Srut who is more hunted even than Magdalena and it is Srut who brings them into the world of the Prague Resistance. It is their downfall, for a time.
Occasionally the story goes back and forth to 1956, when old friends and foes are still working to realign what was thrown off-kilter during the war years and it is in 1956 that the story reaches an entirely satisfying conclusion.
Along the way, there are characters a reader can identify with, characters a reader would rather not identify with, and characters a reader is never quite sure about. That’s what makes this story compelling – that even the worst, or maybe the next-to-worst since Goebbels is in the story, characters have something I could understand. And even the best characters, the one a reader will keep reading for, are not always perfect.
The book is real, it’s painful at times, and it was something I could not put down.
(I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review will be cross-posted to my book review blog and to my Goodreads account.)