Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Length: 13k words
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, WWII, 1940s, Pilots, Mechanics, Germany
Rating: Me Like
Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.
When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.
But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.
Taking place on an airfield outside of Berlin near the end of the war in 1945, Felix the airplane mechanic lives from liftoff to landing, moving forward in a steady crescendo, fixing the planes on the ground and waiting for them to return for more needed work. The war, now turning into a German defensive, is Felix’s only real experience with adult life, no matter the cruel parody of life that it is. He’s quite an innocent, his dream to fly with the men of the squadron, but relegated to the ground crew after failing the test. He watches the pilots with something akin to hero worship, but none more than Baldur, one of the best of the pilots. The two grow closer after Felix pulls a bullet out of Baldor’s plane — a near-miss that seems to upset Felix more than it does Baldor. They soon become friends and when they have time to take what seems like it might be their last weekend off, they grow closer, resolutely living in the moment and without contemplation of any possible future together when all their countrymen and women and children around them are paying for the actions of the Führer.
As tedious as it must be to write a story marketed towards English speaking readers from the mindset of a German during WWII, it is similar for this reviewer. I realized that when less than two pages in I found myself subconsciously giving each sentence ten times the weight and examination as I would a normal story. Some of that is ingrained habit, of course, on a subject that can easily incite heated feelings, but some of it is also because I was interested in seeing how the author would write the story. With this premise, suddenly it seems like the tone, the characters, and the many little details within carry so much more weight than with another story with a different setting. I know that the author knows this, especially with the note on the story about the exhaustive research he did. And I know it will be the same for most readers. I found myself a little torn about this fundamental question. I tend to be a peacemaker — someone who doesn’t like to ruffle feathers and hates conflict. I know that about myself by now, so my natural inclination towards this review is to completely disregard the politics and focus on the story. In a way, that is a discredit to the story, but I also feel like the story was handled well, in the sense that it was character driven and gives just enough character opinion (POV of Felix) to give weight to German sentiment of the time near the end of the war without it swallowing up the whole story. I can’t speak to the accuracy of statements like: “Just a few weeks ago, we were “winning the war.” Now, though, propaganda has become resigned, accusatory, as if all the losses and destruction are our fault.”, but I will interest me enough to read lots of other reviews of the story to see what other reviewers might think. I don’t really know enough about how different groups of Germans at the time thought, so I can’t quite say if I believe Felix’s statements seem to represent his character. I’m keeping an open mind.
As for the story itself, it is one the best short stories I’ve read by Voinov. There’s an incredibly pervasive dour tone throughout the whole story that sets the mood for the hopelessness Felix feels and witnesses in Baldur. It makes the case of continual hopelessness and the stark reality of their future as well when, at the climax of the story, the tone doesn’t change.
I always notice the sensory detail in Voinov’s work, and this story didn’t let me down. The flashes of color among the grey provide a stark dissonance. All the sense are used effectively, taste, scent, touch, and sound come forward to have more meaning against desolate towns that are described in drab sights. When looking at a basket full of food under a red-checked cloth, Felix narrates: “He pauses for a moment, gazes down at the towel, and we might be thinking the same — that it looks, from the corner of the eye, like blood-spattered cloth. The pattern is too regular, however, and the whole ordered madness of war is in dissolution everywhere else, so it can’t live in that basket.”
I don’t have criticism for the story, and if this is just a taste of a longer novel soon to come (whether about these characters or not), then I’m very excited to see what Voinov will release in the near future.