** spoiler alert **
I came to this book because the audio version was performed by an actor I'd really enjoyed listening to before. The elements I liked, I liked alot. The tone seemed right, the Paris scenes were exciting, and I'm on the road to learn more about the place in this period. But when it was done listening, I had the impression of the first time I tried to walk in high heels: several steps were smooth and graceful, but inevitably I stumbled, which hurt and and I felt like an idiot for pushing my luck. Wallner is a first-time novelist, although he's a screenwriter, and actor.
The story is set in German-occupied Paris during 1943. It centers on Roth, a young German solider who works as a French translator. At the beginning he is transferred from his army post to the local SS office, who want him to translate during their interrogations of French prisoners. He's not really engaged with the propaganda of the war; really Roth is just doing his time. But he is fascinated with Paris and decides to alleviate his boredom by going out into the city in civilian clothing, assuming a French name and history, and testing his unaccented French to absorb Paris life. He meets and falls in love with a French girl, who he learns through his work with the SS, is heavily involved with the French resistance. The drama of what Roth will do about all of this and the result of that decision is good stuff. He is easy to root for; he starts out as apathetic and then just turns into a guy trying to survive. In my opinion,the interrogations sequences in this short book were too long (but I knew they were coming of course). I suppose they were necessary. There are a couple of harrowing scenes where people are being chased by the SS. In the end, Roth finds himself in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
When I say it reminded me of The English Patient (the film, I haven't read the book), you'll have a good sense of how it ends. I asked myself in the end why I loved the movie in spite of it's ending, but felt so disappointed by this one. Wars are sad and often, there are sad endings, I guess. The end of April in Paris felt appropriate, although I wanted a much different one. It just seemed like after all Roth had been through to find the woman he loved, there could have been a reunion of some kind.