The English Air

by D. E. Stevenson

This is a novel that essentially is a comparison between England and Germany and ultimately a comparison between the English and German characters. The slightest of plots are the dual romances of an upper-middle-class widow and her daughter. What casts it in an extraordinary light is that it is not only set in England on the brink of WWII but that it was written at that same time. One senses that D.E. Stevenson herself was struggling to understand and be fair to the German people while in the midst of the relief and joy of Neville Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler, and then the ultimate betrayal, Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the Blitzkrieg.

Franz, a young Nazi and the son of Sophie’s dear dead friend and cousin comes to England to basically spy and learn about the “behind the scenes” life and character of the English people. His contempt and bewilderment at the differences in outlook between the two cultures ultimately turn to admiration and understanding. To seal the deal he falls in love with Wynne, Sophie’s daughter. The plan his true-believer Nazi father who had hoped to get reports of the weakness of the English people and their sad deprived lives has backfired. After war is declared, he no longer has a place in England and reluctantly returns to Germany. He is shocked by what he finds. What will happen to him? What will this nice boy do?

Although the Germans we actually meet are good even heroic people, by the end of the novel, probably influenced by what was happening at the time, D.E. Stevenson does not give Germans the benefit of the doubt. It ends very abruptly on a rather bitter note.

He had always intended to go back, but, just lately, he had begun to wonder whether the Germany which was enshrined in his heart, had any existence save in his fond imagination.

And who can blame her fear and distrust? By the time she had written the last page and the book was published, Germany was winning. England was a hair’s breadth away from invasion, Germans were bombing London and innocent civilians were dying. And brave young boys were being killed in defense of their home “This precious stone set in the silver sea.” **3 stars out of 5**

February 8, 2020

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