Review: Detour

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: DetourThe Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Published by Soho Press on February 14, 2012
Genres: Historical
Pages: 307
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Ernst Vogler is twenty-six years old in 1938 when he is sent to Rome by his employer—the Third Reich's Sonderprojekte, which is collecting the great art of Europe and bringing it to Germany for the Führer. Vogler is to collect a famous Classical Roman marble statue, The Discus Thrower, and get it to the German border, where it will be turned over to Gestapo custody. It is a simple, three-day job.

Things start to go wrong almost immediately. The Italian twin brothers who have been hired to escort Vogler to the border seem to have priorities besides the task at hand—wild romances, perhaps even criminal jobs on the side—and Vogler quickly loses control of the assignment. The twins set off on a dangerous detour and Vogler realizes he will be lucky to escape this venture with his life, let alone his job. With nothing left to lose, the young German gives himself up to the Italian adventure, to the surprising love and inevitable losses along the way.

The Detour is a bittersweet novel about artistic obsession, misplaced idealism, detours, and second chances, set along the beautiful back-roads of northern Italy on the eve of war.

The setting of this book is incredibly interesting to the historian in me. The focus of this historical fiction novel is on WWII Germany, but on a part not usually covered. Hitler wanted to be a painter. However, his landscapes were not deemed especially good, especially with modern art on the rise. Thus, the back-up plan was blame everyone else for his failures and take over the world so people would think he was the best. (Note: I may be simplifying things.)

Using his power, Hitler set out to squelch modern art, calling it degenerate art. Much was burned. Hitler also set out to acquire famous antique works of art, like The Discus Thrower. These pieces served as status symbols, but may also truly have been Hitler’s favorites. Anyway, Hitler’s touch in this story is largely as art collector.

Unfortunately, I did not much enjoy the actual story. It was okay, but it was in no way outstanding. The problem I think was in Ernst, and in the way Romano-Lax decided to tell the story. Ernst never coalesced into a person with a personality for me. He was a person of a couple of interests and with some serious lingering issues from childhood. These facts just didn’t add up to a person.

Also, even when he ‘fell in love’ or watched someone die, the feelings never came through the writing. I suspect that this has to do with the way the story is told. Romano-Lax decided to use a frame of Ernst as an old man, going back to Italy. The rest of the tale is Ernst remembering what happened there all of those years ago. These parts are told in the past tense, and the audience is warned early on that his memory is not to be trusted. All of this just served to make a big disconnect between me as a reader and the character’s experience.

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