Saturday, 13 October 2012

Skybound, Aleksandr Voinov

A wonderful, beautifully written, painstakingly researched piece of WWII with a M/M slant.

- Review by Kazza K

I would have to say one of the biggest revelations for me in terms of humanising German soldier's experiences of war; of looking at another person's perspective, was reading Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I read it a LONG time ago, but I can remember his perspective, his narrative. My father served in WWII he didn't talk about it much, but my mother would tell me her thoughts, always from the Allied Forces POV, which I understand. I also took it as gospel, until I read. Reading something from the 'other' side helps to make you think about people, not just sides, or the 'war machine.' But, perhaps, I digress.

Skybound is Aleksandr Voinov's little piece of WWII, and what a fascinating slice it is. It's a snapshot of two men who are not of the same rank, are not in the same ball park socially, finding something worth fighting for; other than Germany. Two men who find each other in amongst the turnoil that is the last days in a war ravaged, tumultuous, confused Germany. The writing is purely from Felix's POV, which works very well. Of course there are secondary characters, but it's definitely Felix and Baldur's book.

This is a piece of fiction but it is grounded so incredibly well in fact that I felt like I was there. Living the last days watching two men find themselves. Feeling frantic as planes landed, were serviced, only to be sent up again with weary pilots who were getting thin on the ground. Not being able to ever relax.

Being a pilot in both World Wars was a dangerous task. More than a few lost their lives. I felt for Felix as I read his account of plane/pilot counting after a sortie -

It's the rookies that don't last very long. At the speed at which the pilots are hurled again and again into the sky, many never make it back.

The others are landing, too, steel eagles rolling over the tarmac; I don't have time to count them. I'm normally counting the empty spaces, the absences.

To his more personal take -

But I never count them in his Staffel. Nobody else exists for me when he lands. Everything stops existing when he takes off, as if he takes it all with him when he goes up there, to places I'll never see again.

It took me a while to warm to Felix and Baldur as possible lovers. Felix seemed more obsessed with a dream than in love with a man -

I don't want to admit to the childish fantasies I have about him. For me, he can walk on water, dance in the clouds. I know he can't, really, but what he can and can't do pales into nothing when I look at him.

But then that changed as they opened up more, spent some time together. How they connected was so poetic and tense all at once. It may sound funny, but it was at the end when I saw them as having great possibilities together, saw them as true lovers. That is not a bad thing. I was locked into the history of WWII Germany. However, that does not mean the characterizations weren't strong. They were very strong. They were both men of few words, why would they be otherwise? Given their desires, given the time, given the place. There was so much tension hanging over these young men, who seemed old, had lived through much. Baldur as the gallant and dashing Messerschmitt pilot, who could do what Felix had failed to be able to do; fly. And Felix making the aircraft hang together that helped bring the men back. Especially his love, his obsession, his 'hero,' Baldur Vogt.

"I wish I could fight, Herr Leutnant." He regards me curiously. "I dreamt of flying. As a boy I mean."
He must hear that a lot. He's a legend. Every green boy desires to be him. I don't. My desires are more complicated.

I could quote so much from this book, but it's not a long ebook. Perhaps I have concentrated more on the historical, but there's so much more. The offical blurb says a lot and there are plenty of reviews on Goodreads alone. I want to add that the way words are placed together here by Aleksandr Voinov made me feel like I was injected into a personal, very private moment in history with two interesting men. I truly enjoyed being allowed in. Skybound is great reading - Echt toll.

For Felix and Baldur-

Flieg ich ans Ende der Stadt. Ans Ende der Welt. Und über den Rand.

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