Publisher : No Exit Press
Available in ebook, audiobook, paperback (7 May 2020)
Source: Copy received for review from publisher
ABOUT THE BOOK
From the acclaimed author of The Conviction of Cora Burns, longlisted for the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award.
England, 1943. Lost in fog, pilot Vee Katchatourian is forced to make an emergency landing where she meets enigmatic RAF airman Stefan Bergel, and then can’t get him out of her mind.
In occupied Poland, Ewa Hartman hosts German officers in her father’s guest house, while secretly gathering intelligence for the Polish resistance. Mourning her lover, Stefan, who was captured by the Soviets at the start of the war, Ewa is shocked to him on the street one day.
Haunted by a terrible choice he made in captivity, Stefan asks Vee and Ewa to help him expose one of the darkest secrets of the war. But it is not clear where everyone’s loyalties lie until they are tested…
Published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day and based on WWII war atrocity the Katyn massacre, When We Fall is a moving story of three lives forever altered by one fatal choice.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to the publisher for sending a copy of the book to review. I particularly enjoy WW2 fiction and jumped at the chance to review this once when offered.
When We Fall is based on the Katyn massacre of 1940, until this story I wasn’t aware of this tragic event but the author’s note says the book is inspired by the fact that that all of the victims were men, except for one woman, a female pilot.
It is 1943. Vee Katchatourian, a young British woman of Armenian descent, is an Air Transport Auxillary pilot. She is new to the job and whilst delivering her Tiger Moth gets lost in fog and makes an emergency landing at an airfield in Essex. This is where she meets Flight Sergeant Stefan Bergel, of 302 Squadron, a young Polish pilot who will make such an impression, the consequences of which she has yet to fully understand.
In Poznan, Poland, Ewa (or to give her German equivalent name which she must use) Eva, Hartman, is working in the family guesthouse with her father, serving the occupying German SS officers whilst assisting the AK, the Polish underground army by passing on messages together with information she gleans from the Germans. It’s a dangerous task especially doing this right under the noses of the SS but Ewa must do what she can to help her country. Her fiancee Stefan, has been missing for over 3 years and she fears that he is dead.
When We Fall is both a powerful and compelling story based on true events. We see a little of Vee’s life as a pilot and her frustration at the best flying jobs being given to the men, and the racism she suffers because of her name. She was as brave as any man – the planes rarely had radios so she had to use her own instincts and skills when tackling challenging flying conditions.
Ewa features in much more of the story. Another brave and strong character, she trod a fine line between keeping her true Polish origins and activities secret to keep both herself and her father safe.
Both women’s lives are connected by one man. Stefan. He certainly was a troubled and complex character. For much of the story I couldn’t make up my mind about him; whose side he was really on or whether he could be trusted and this is was the aspect that intrigued me the most.
There are some shocking and harrowing scenes described, particularly with regard to the massacre. Most of the atrocities happen off the page or are hinted at but the inclusion is necessary to the authenticity of the story.
The author has superbly woven a fictional story around a true historical event. I was completely absorbed by the lives of these characters, for some people, every day was a danger and one that they may not survive. All three of them had difficult choices to make. The author’s detailed research comes over clearly and the story, whilst heartbreaking at times, is one that will capture your heart.
It was only when I got to the end, and then having read the prologue again, that I realised how perfect the title is for the book.
This was an excellent read and one to be recommended.
Carolyn will be interviewed by author and critic Barry Forshaw (@barryforshaw3) at 8.15pm on Thursday 7th May and there is the opportunity to ask questions too. To join the event go to crowdcast.io/e/whenwefall or the talk can be viewed afterwards if you can’t make that time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carolyn Kirby is the author of The Conviction of Cora Burns which was longlisted for the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award. Before becoming a full-time writer, Carolyn worked in social housing and as a teacher. She has two grown-up daughters and lives with her husband in Oxfordshire.
Here is a link to a YouTube video with Carolyn Kirby talking about the background to When We Fall