When Twilight Breaks
I’ve reread Sarah Sundin’s first novel (A Distant Melody) so often that there are parts of it I could quote by heart. What I love about that story, and many of her books since, is that they remind me of the 1950s era WWII movies my parent’s loved. They are sweet, innocent, romantic and revolve around a simple, unabashed patriotism that is a soothing balm in these troubled times. When Twilight Breaks captures the spirit of some of the more adventurous of those films, highlighting that patriotism which puts the state before God is a dangerous form of idolatry.
It’s 1938 and Evelyn Brand is in Munich writing stories for the American News Service. As a woman in a man’s field she finds herself constantly fighting both offensive and defensive battles. She endlessly defends her right to be a correspondent and battles tirelessly to be given decent assignments and not just fluff pieces about how wonderful Germany is. Still, she makes the most of the opportunities she is given, and one of those opportunities is to interview Peter Lang, a grad student working on his PhD in German, for an article about Americans studying abroad.
Peter has been impressed with what he has seen in the first few months he has been in Germany. The streets are clean and orderly, the economy is thriving, the people are encouraged to be lean, strong and healthy (a personal passion of his) and best of all, the government has dealt harshly with the communist problem. Peter’s own father was killed by communists in Chicago and he can’t help but think that Germany’s devotion to law and order would have prevented such a tragedy from happening. He is delighted to meet with Evelyn, speak to her of his love of the country and ask the cute, feisty reporter on a date.
Evelyn likes Peter as a person but after a few outings, realizes that his view of Germany and hers not only don’t align, but are polar opposites. She sees what lies below the surface of Germany’s so-called law and order – repressed people, silenced dissidents and persecution of minorities. While she is determined not to date Peter, she does introduce him to Herr Gold, a Jewish café owner whose baked goods are little slices of heaven. It is Herr Gold who is slowly able to awaken Peter to the tragedies happening right under his nose.
Once Peter is aware of what is occurring, he begins to pass information to Evelyn about issues being discussed at Nazi Party meetings and student union gatherings. He has been invited to attend these events since the people at the university appreciated his initial approval of their culture. But Peter and Evelyn are now involved in a dangerous game. It is important to Hitler that America not know about the cruelty of his regime – and it is important to Peter and Evelyn that everyone back home knows to fight against this horrible new power.
The tale breaks down into two different portions. Prior to Kristallnacht, it revolves around Peter and Evelyn getting to know each other as they live out their lives in the Germany of 1938. For Evelyn, that means fighting to receive decent assignments and also over how her boss edits her work. When he is called away unexpectedly and a different man temporarily fills his spot, Evelyn finally gets to write the kind of articles she wants. It makes her a rising star in the American journalistic world but the Gestapo takes a new and frightening interest in her work. It also means spending time with Peter, although she keeps him firmly in the friend zone. It’s not just because of their differing opinions about the Nazis. The men she’s dated in the past have all encouraged her to quit her job and be more “feminine” and she’s fought too hard and come too far in her career to give it all up for love. Peter hasn’t intimated that’s what he would want but she’s convinced it’s just a matter of time.
For his part, Peter spends his time spying on ‘friends’ he increasingly finds repugnant. The author does a nice job of using these characters to show the multifaceted nature of the Nazis. They were kind to each other, cordial and welcoming to folks like them, and had a deep love of and loyalty to their families and country. It wasn’t until you heard about how they treated the Jewish people or people that disagreed with them that you learned about the ugliness that lay beneath their polished exteriors. At first Peter also spends a lot of his time gently pursuing Evelyn. He isn’t pushy but he is persistent, letting her know he’s available if she ever changes her mind. Once he begins passing her information, they are careful to spend less and less time together since her pieces contain information he has provided and they want to keep the Gestapo guessing as to her possible source. All that changes after Kristallnacht, when the story becomes an adventure tale as our intrepid hero and heroine try to outwit their enemies and escape the nightmare Germany has become.
This is an inspirational novel, so God and faith are interwoven into the text. For Evelyn this subject is explored through her grappling with her deep desire to be independent and her need to learn to depend upon and trust in God. Peter has to come to terms with God’s mercy and how that supersedes law and order. Their growth in their faith plays an important part of their growth as people and as a couple.
Evelyn’s background contains what might be a hot button issue for some – in order to escape persecution her Jewish grandparents had converted to Christianity. The family moved to America from Germany, where it seemed they only tepidly followed their new faith. Her heritage was a non-issue in Evelyn’s life until she found herself in Germany, observing first-hand the consequences of the Nuremberg Race Laws, which concentrated not on belief but lineage. The book does deal with numerous other Jewish people – namely the Golds and members of their synagogue – without any mention of them converting to Christianity or Evelyn or Peter trying to evangelize them in any way.
This novel revolves around the relationship between Peter and Evelyn; all the action, and most of the conversations impact how these two relate to each other. That should have led to a rather romantic tale, but thinking back on the book, I couldn’t remember any truly swoony moments. Their connection lacked romantic spark, and given how the book was about them falling in love, that was a pretty big glitch for an otherwise fascinating novel.
Quibbles aside, When Twilight Breaks is an enjoyable, fast paced read that captures an important moment in WWII history. This richly detailed historical adventure romance will be sure to thrill fans of Sundin’s work and be a hit with any fan of Inspirational WWII novels.