Friday, April 21, 2023

Book Review: The Golden Doves

By Jami Denison

Historical fiction author Martha Hall Kelly has set aside her Woolsey-Ferriday series to return to the horrors of World War II in her latest novel, The Golden Doves. With two protagonists and alternating time periods during and after the war, the book veers into some unexpected directions and brings up questions on entangling fact and fiction about such an important time period. 

The book begins in 1952. Former spies for the French Resistance, American Josie Anderson now works for the American government, helping to capture Nazis who’ve fled from justice. But after she learns of Operation Paperclip—the real-life program to bring Nazi scientists to the U.S. to work for the government—Josie balks at her assignment to bring over a notorious doctor who tortured women at the horrific female concentration camp Ravensbruck. In fact, Dr. Snow tortured and killed Josie’s own mother! Will she retrieve the man…. Or kill him herself? Meanwhile, her Parisian colleague Arlette LaRue is stunned by the news that her missing son Willie—torn from her arms when they were imprisoned in Ravensbruck—may be alive in an orphanage in French Guiana. Even though Josie warns her that French Guiana is a nest of former Nazis, Arlette has to find out the truth. 

I found The Golden Doves to be an uneven read. Although Kelly goes back in time to show the reader her heroines’ lives before the war—Josie the daughter of an American diplomat and a Jewish French singer; Arlette a teenage orphan living with a cruel aunt who gets pregnant by a Hitler Youth soldier—knowing that the women survive the war robs these sections of tension. Even worse, Arlette comes across as an apologist for the Nazis, making excuses for her German boyfriend and bragging about her baby’s three-quarters’ German blood. The events that put these two women together seem too coincidental and at times, contrived. As the book progresses, both women make errors in judgment over and over that seem unbelievable considering everything they have gone through, and Josie’s Army training in particular. 

As the book nears its conclusion, the genre seems to turn away from historical fiction into speculative and science fiction. I was reminded of the movie The Boys From Brazil, and read the author’s end note and scoured the internet to find out what was historical fact, and what Kelly had invented. For something as horrific as the Holocaust, I wonder about the appropriateness of adding more horror under the guise of fiction. Kelly also used composite characters to stand in for real Nazis, while including the names of others—specifically, Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor known as the Angel of Death who fled to South America after the war and was never punished for his crimes against humanity. Having a Mengele stand-in and mentioning the real Mengele was a head-scratcher for me, as was Kelly’s decision to end the book on a cliffhanger more appropriate for James Bond than historical fiction. (There was a great twist at the climax that I did not see coming, though.)

In her author’s note, Kelly says she was inspired by two real-life French Resistance spies, America Virginia d’Albert Lake and Briton Violetta Szabo. Readers interested in these stories might find Erika Robuck’s Sisters of Night and Fog a moving and consistent—albeit fictional—portrayal of these women. (Reviewed here.) She also mentioned other Nazi programs--such as the maternity homes for unmarried German girls and the bunk in Ravensbruck that allowed women to stay with their children--that she wanted to write about. With so much material, it’s not surprising that some of the war-time plot twists felt contrived. Kelly might have better served her readers by saving some material for future books. 

While I had issues with some of Kelly’s storytelling choices, I applaud her use of theme: that monsters die, but their monstrous ideas live on. Book banning, “fake news,” rolling back reproductive rights to encourage the “right type” of woman to have children, passing laws to hurt LGBTQ+ people… these were all Nazi tactics that are being used in the United States and other western countries today. Along with “Don’t Say Gay” and “Don’t Say Black,” how long until some red states begin to pass “Don’t Say Jewish” laws as well? Authors like Kelly make sure that the world will not forget its past, even as we are doomed to repeat it.   

Thanks to Booksparks for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Martha Hall Kelly:

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.

Listen to this book on Speechify!

No comments: