Publication Date: 8/27/2019
Rating: 4 / 5
I received an advanced readers edition in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Park Row Books for the chance to read and review!
THE VENTRILOQUISTS by E.R. Ramzipoor is historical fiction based in true events. Set in Brussels in 1943 during World War II, the Nazis are taking over the most popular newspaper to put out their own propaganda, but the Front de l’Indépendance is committed to publishing underground newspapers free from Nazi control.
Journalist Marc Aubrion and several of his compatriots are confronted by Nazi official August Wolff and pressed into service to put out a paper which will depict the Allies as the bad guys. Given little choice but to comply, Aubrion comes up with a plan to outwardly do the Nazi’s bidding. Behind the scenes, they will actually produce a fake edition of the paper that makes fun of Hitler and Stalin. With just 20 days to figure out how to write, publish and distribute their special edition, there is much to be done and constant danger hanging over their heads.
The story’s narrator is Helene who was a twelve year old girl in 1943. Orphaned, Helene lives by passing herself off as a newsboy selling papers when Marc Aubrion recruits her to join the resistance. The novel is told from the modern day as Helene tells her story to Eliza, a young woman who has sought her out for just this purpose. Helene tells her own story in the first person and narrates the other characters’ parts in the third person, with a little of her own commentary on the goings on mixed in. There are short passages interspersed with conversation about the story between Helene and Eliza.
The conversation and the narrative feel very natural, though I might have wanted to see a little bit more about how Helene came to some of the knowledge she had for portions of the story where she wasn’t a first person observer. Some of this is explained in the narrative, but I feel like there could have been a bit more.
Though the war going on was obviously a key element, the characters were the true focus of the story. It was interesting to see characters living their lives in the world who we might generally only see depicted in hiding or sent to concentration camps in World War II fiction. I haven’t seen a lot of queer representation in historical fiction during this time period, so that was appreciated.
There is a lot of World War II historical fiction out there, but I do enjoy finding some that gives a new twist to the story and this was a novel that did just that. As someone with a great appreciation of writing and publishing, getting a story of people trying to get the written word out against all odds was a great new perspective. The characters are under a tremendous time crunch, evidenced by not only the characters’ reactions, but the chapter headings which give a countdown to publication day to emphasize the looming deadline.
Overall, I really enjoyed THE VENTRILOQUISTS. The author uses beautiful, descriptive language and I really enjoyed the writing in this book. For a 500+ page novel, it really was a fast, immersive read and I read through it in a single day. It took me a bit to engage with the story as there are quite a number of characters introduced in a pretty quick sequence in the beginning, but by the time I was about 50 pages in I was hooked and eager to see what would happen next.
If you enjoy historical fiction with a unique look at a well known time period, I would recommend you pick up a copy of THE VENTRILOQUISTS which is out today, August 27, 2019! This was a great debut novel from E.R. Ramzipoor and I will be keeping an eye out for what she comes out with in the future!