The Verdun Affair: A Novel (Hardcover)
This concise yet sweeping atmospheric war novel has hints of The English Patient, managing to put the reader directly into the French and Italian landscapes of a post-World War I world. Through a triangle of characters and an amnesiac soldier, Dybek tells a haunting story of how war can twist the hearts and minds and the good intentions of decent people. A beautiful, melancholy love story you will not soon forget.— Melanie
“The Verdun Affair is ravishingly beautiful, and as much about love as about war. Nick Dybek is a storyteller of great power.” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
A sweeping, romantic, and profoundly moving novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s, about a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart.
In 1921, two young Americans meet in Verdun, the city in France where one of the most devastating battles of the war was waged. Tom is an orphan from Chicago, a former ambulance driver now gathering bones from the battlefield; Sarah is an expatriate from Boston searching for the husband who wandered off from his division and hasn’t been seen since. Quickly, the two fall into a complicated affair against the ghostly backdrop of the ruined city. Months later, Sarah and Tom meet again at the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital, drawn there by the appearance of a mysterious patient the doctors call Douglas Fairbanks (after the silent film actor)—a shell-shocked soldier with no memory of who he is. At the hospital, Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist with his own interest in the amnesiac.
Each is keeping a secret; each has been shaken by the horrors of war. Decades later, Tom, now a successful screenwriter, encounters Paul by chance in LA, still grappling with the questions raised by this gorgeous and incisive novel: How to begin again after unfathomable trauma? How to love after so much loss? And who, in the end, was Douglas Fairbanks?
From the bone-strewn fields of Verdun to the bombed-out cafés of Paris, from the riot-torn streets of Bologna to the riotous parties of 1950s Hollywood, The Verdun Affair is a riveting tale of romance, grief, and the far-reaching consequences of a single lie.
“As evocative as it is unflinching in its verisimilitude, Dybek’s novel begins shortly after the First World War in an ossuary, a makeshift memorial of sorts where unidentified remains of soldiers are gathered. Into this metaphor-rich setting a young American wife arrives seeking answers, and a precarious romance ensues…capturing the fragmented textures of war’s afterlife, and the private desires that seem to glow with even greater intensity in memory, is Dybek’s true ambition.”
“For a literary romance, try The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek, a historical fiction that begins in 1950 in Los Angeles, where a Hollywood screenwriter runs into someone from his past. Their story stretches back to Europe in the years following the First World War, and the novel unravels a love triangle and its players’ secrets.”
"Nick Dybek’s pensive new novel centers on a man, a woman and a lie in World War I Europe and 1950s California. Dybek’s protagonist is an orphan without ties, free to project his life in any direction he chooses – but he can’t choose where the lie takes him."
“While there are obvious comparisons to The English Patient, this book seems to be an extended metaphor showing how relationships, loves even, can be shattered beyond all recognition, just as a human body can be obliterated. The author effectively communicates the spirit of place and time. He also has a knack for sharing the feelings and intentions behind quite ordinary conversations. The strength of this book lies in the first chapters set in Verdun. The powerful images of post-war suffering eclipse the image of long-dead romances.”
–Historical Novels Review
"Dybek is a master at creating an atmosphere of war, of decadence amid the rubble, and at dipping in and out of history, teasing the reader with beguiling clues concerning the secrets each character harbors ... Dybek's novel is a complex tale of memory, choice, and the sacrifices one sometimes makes by doing the right thing."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Dybek has created a carefully constructed, deeply inquisitive, and broodingly romantic tale of mourning resonant with judicious echoes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and spiked with piquant insights into the loss, longing, and delusion rampant in the haunting aftermath of war."
—Booklist, starred review
“An absorbing tale ... in delicate, evocative prose, Dybek captures the grim devastation of scarred battlefields, bombed villages, and fetid soil and conveys with sensitivity his characters' unabated desire to see in the shellshocked soldier an answer to their deepest desire.”
“The Verdun Affair is ravishingly beautiful, and as much about love as about war. Nick Dybek is a storyteller of great power. I found myself drawn in immediately, believing the place, the characters, everything in his magnificently woven story. If there’s any justice, this novel will be widely read and recognized. I absolutely adored it.”
—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
“Sometimes the true battle begins only after the fighting is over. In this case, it’s the struggle to regain feeling, memory, and love in a landscape where verdancy can flourish again over graves and trenches and bones, but not over the craters of a wounded spirit. In the end, only a story can do that, but it must be as rich and poignant and compelling as Nick Dybek’s immersive and atmospheric The Verdun Affair. The meaning in life often goes AWOL, and we look to our great writers—writers like Nick Dybek—to bring it back.”
—Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son and Fortune Smiles
“The Verdun Affair is an intensely gripping story set in the immediate aftermath of war. From a still-smoldering battlefield, Nick Dybek conjures a sweeping saga of secrets, lies, mistaken identity, love and betrayal. This is the kind of book you can’t put down.”
—Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn
“The Verdun Affair is a masterful, sweeping novel of love and war and the way we reconstruct ourselves and our stories after everything has come apart. Nick Dybek is a vivid storyteller, and this is a beautiful and exciting book.”
—Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One is Here Except all of Us
“I am still haunted by the images of war so deftly conjured in the midst of an elegiac love story. Dybek writes with a commanding sense of story and language. This novel will not let you go.”
—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Summer Before The War
"Love, war, the mysteries of who we are — it's all in The Verdun Affair. A masterful novel that will fizz your brain and enchant your heart."
—David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife
“A haunting, beautiful, and wholly absorbing book, that is at once a gripping story of war, a poignant coming of age, and a bittersweet romance. Dybek conjures the time period with elegance and visceral detail. I didn’t want it to end!”
—Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles and Circe