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Resistance (2007)

by Owen Sheers

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4612738,077 (3.75)36
1944. After the fall of Russia and the failed D-Day landings, half of Britain is occupied . . . Young farmer's wife Sarah Lewis wakes to find her husband has disappeared, along with all of the men from her remote Welsh village. A German patrol arrives in the valley, the purpose of their mission a mystery. Sarah begins a faltering acquaintance with the patrol's commanding officer, Albrecht, and it is to her that he reveals the purpose of his mission - to claim an extraordinary medieval art treasure that lies hidden in the valley. But as the pressure of the war beyond presses in on this isolated community, this fragile state of harmony is increasingly threatened.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Not got the legs over last forty pages but a great read. ( )
  adrianburke | Nov 2, 2016 |
Maps and journeys dominate this novel. Historic maps of the medieval world. A route across southern England. The cul-de-sac that is an isolated valley in the Welsh Marches. The pathways of human memories. The unmapped future when one steps off the end of the known world. The past as it might have been if history had taken a different direction.

All fictions could be said to be alternative histories, in that they describe people who may not have existed and events that may never have happened in our own physical world. Resistance however sits firmly in the alternate history genre given that it envisages what might have happened if Nazi Germany had finally triumphed; it’s a popular theme, explored for example in Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. In Sheers’ novel Hitler’s armies have seen success both on the Eastern Front and in Western Europe, and have begun their successful invasion of Britain in autumn 1944. The novel’s action focuses on the Olchon valley, an isolated location north of Abergavenny, and it is here that a group of German soldiers are sent on a clandestine mission by Himmler and where they mysteriously encounter an all-female community.

Foregrounded are the German officer, Albrecht Wolfram, and Sarah Lewis, the farmer abandoned by her husband Tom; the latter, we surmise, has joined a covert Auxiliary Unit manned by insurgents — as the Germans call them — to maintain resistance against the occupiers. Sarah and the other women (Maggie, Mary, Menna and Bethan) are completely in the dark as to why their men have left, but with winter approaching they have no choice but to get on as best they can with the demands of hill farming. It comes as a complete shock when Captain Wolfram and his men appear. What do they want, and why are they here?

Sheers explores in great subtlety the relationships between the soldiery and the women. In particular Albrecht, a former scholar, and Sarah, who left school early, find they have more in common than they expected — missing loves, similar sensibilities, a respect for literature, and a recognition of their shared humanity. Against their relationships there is, mixed in with some reluctant toleration and socialising, a background of suspicion, distrust and fear in the wider community; and of attempts to restore some normality being punctuated by savage acts of reprisal.

Invisibly binding foreground and background like threads in a tapestry are more abstract themes. Albrecht’s surname reflects the tribute paid to the medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach: Wolfram is best known as the author of Parzival, the story of Sir Perceval’s quest for the holy grail. In the late 13th-century Hereford Mappa Mundi, which looms large but mostly hidden in these pages, the quest theme is also strongly represented: illustrated prominently are Jerusalem as the centre of Christian pilgrimage and Crete’s labyrinth as symbolic of the classical quest. The search for a special relic to take back to Himmler’s parody of Camelot, the Wewelsburg Castle, is in fact just one of many Arthurian themes in this novel; another is Sarah’s childhood remembrance of Welsh artist and poet David Jones who had enthralled her with tales of Arthur and of the spirit of a king within the mountains. (This latter may be the medieval hero Owain Lawgoch rather than King Arthur, however, as Owen Sheers the poet will have known.)

Borders and margins are everywhere: in the Welsh Marches; Offa’s Dyke itself — built to separate the Mercian Angles from their Cambrian neighbours — running on the ridge above the valley named from a river with a Welsh name; in the sheep farmers, conscious of their Brythonic heritage but geographically resident in England’s Herefordshire. More intangible are the understandable barriers between Albrecht’s men and the valley women, and those between the locals at the Llanthony Show and poor shunned Maggie.

I very much admired the author’s recreation of life in the Welsh hills, the minutiae of exacting tasks combined with isolation and with the usual anxieties accompanying subsistence farming. This slow pace of life is beautifully echoed in the pace of the narrative as we move through the rural year, from autumn to summer. Violence is never dwelt on, and rarely visceral; while there is always a constant sense of menace and of the world turning inexorably, the shocks are few but telling.

The final violent deed, done by somebody we might least expect, is to me narratively speaking exactly right; it symbolically crosses the border between wartime uncertainty and a hopeful future, with the object itself a gateway to be utterly destroyed so as to allow stasis to be overcome. The genius loci is thus summoned from his cave, the final crossing of the ridge over which Offa’s Dyke runs an escape from the perils of No Man’s Land. The hand of the poet, I feel, is evident everywhere in this wonderful novel; it’s a healthy way to respond to the horrors of war and conflict and to exalt the human spirit.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-resist ( )
  ed.pendragon | Feb 16, 2016 |
The women of a remote isolated valley on the border of Wales and England wake late one morning to discover that all the men of the valley have disappeared without a word. It's not impossible to guess where they have gone—to join the Resistance. Hitler invaded England that summer, and his troops have made inroads into the midlands. In shock, the women meet and agree to help each other carry on with the farming chores and to support each other until their menfolk return.

Captain Albrecht Wolfram of the Wehrmacht is chosen for a special mission. He picks a squad of men and heads north, happy to be avoiding the siege of London. He winds up in the women's valley, where he establishes an uneasy truce so that they might all survive the winter in obscurity. The results of this tentative collaboration are not difficult to predict, but nonetheless lead to some dramatic moments.

This was the first work of alternative fiction that I have read, and I wasn't sure if I would like it, given that I've read a fair amount of WWII history. But I found it to be less about the war, and more about the nature of resistance and collaboration. It was a light read, but entertaining, if predictable. The image of Churchill's last speech before departing England for Canada was quite humorous.

The idea of Auxillary Units of farmers and vicars who were to provide the last defense of England is based on historical fact. Certain locals were provided caches of arms which they hid in underground bunkers. Fortunately they were never activated, but an author's note at the end of the book includes an interview with one of the secret resisters of last resort. ( )
1 vote labfs39 | Feb 28, 2014 |
I really enjoyed Resistance; a re-imagining of the course and outcome of World War II. The Germans have the upper hand and during 1944 are able start their invasion on the south coast of England. Eventually the rest of Britain succumbs and city by city the Germans take over as the occupying power. The King, Churchill and the former government flee for Canada and form the Free British government in exile.

The backdrop of the story is cataclysmic world events, but the focus is on a group of women in a remote Welsh valley sandwiched between the Black Mountains. This physically and emotionally isolated community is 'invaded' by an advanced German army unit after all the local men have left as part of a pre-arranged plan for them to form a subversive and underground resistance movement.

Sarah Lewis is one of the women left behind and much of the story is told from her perspective. As the harsh winter of 1944 sets in and the realities of their desperate situation materialise, Sarah and the other women encounter the inevitable German unit sent to secure the area. Unknown to the women, this small military party is also searching for something else, something that Himler himself is keen to get hold of.

What follows is the growing mutual understanding between the two groups, a realisation that things will never be the same again for any of them, and that some form of accommodation has to be reached. There's a growing and inevitable closeness between Sarah and the unit's officer. For the most part I felt that the motivations and logic of the key protagonists was believable, all except the fact of the men's disappearance in the first place. We are told enough about their pre-conflict characters to realise that them leaving in the manner described just didn't ring true. And while you can expect some ambiguous elements to a story such as this, this is one aspect which I would have appreciated some form of explanation.

Owen Sheers paints a vivid and largely believable landscape, with the physical elements of this Welsh environment being extremely well drawn. It's a dense and detailed read, and one which is a real pleasure.

© Koplowitz 2013 ( )
  Ant.Harrison | Apr 29, 2013 |
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. It turned out to be a very well written story about a village in Britain in an alternate World War II history. The landing at Normandy failed and Germany has invaded Britain. The story focuses on a small village in a secluded valley where the women wake up one day to find out that all the men in the village have left. It is a very interesting story of the women's coping and moving on with life along with some tangents involving some German soldiers on a recon mission and the changes in people when surrounded by war. Very well written book.
  walterqchocobo | Apr 8, 2013 |
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September - November 1944

Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world

Edward Thomas, 'As the team's head-brass'
For those who would have
and those who did
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In the months afterwards all the women, at some point, said they'd known the men were leaving the valley.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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