In this triumphant debut inspired by true events, a ragtag gang of journalists and resistance fighters risk everything for an elaborate scheme to undermine the Reich.
Brussels, 1943. Twelve-year-old street orphan Helene survives by living as a boy and selling copies of the country’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir, now turned into Nazi propaganda. Helene’s entire world changes when she befriends a rogue journalist, Marc Aubrion, who draws her into a secret network publishing dissident underground newspapers.
Aubrion’s unbridled creativity and linguistic genius attract the attention of August Wolff, a high-ranking Nazi official tasked with swaying public opinion against the Allies. Wolff captures Aubrion and his comrades and gives them an impossible choice: use the newspaper to paint the Allies as monsters, or be killed. Faced with no decision at all, Aubrion has a brilliant idea: they will pretend to do the Nazis’ bidding, but instead they will publish a fake edition of Le Soir that pokes fun at Hitler and Stalin—giving power back to the Belgians by daring to laugh in the face of their oppressors.
The ventriloquists have agreed to die for a joke, and they have only eighteen days to tell it.
Told with dazzling scope, taut prose and devastating emotion, The Ventriloquists illuminates the extraordinary acts of courage by ordinary people forgotten by history—unlikely heroes who went to extreme lengths to orchestrate the most stunning feat of journalism in modern history.
Title: The Ventiloquists
Author: E.R. Ramzipoor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover, 544 pages
Publishing date: August 27th 2019
Publishing House: Park Row
ISBN: 0778308154 (ISBN13: 9780778308157)
"Still waters are deep" is a saying that I grew up with and it is the perfect analogy for this novel in my mind. In many ways, a reader knows what to expect when picking up a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but this story is unique and differs from most. Its eloquent prose delivers a quiet punch, that's provocative and thoughtful.
The setting in The Ventriloquists is in Belgium in 1943 and tells the story of a brave resistance group set to hold out and conspire against the Germans via a satire paper to be printed and distributed secretly as the 'Faux Le Soir' of the actual 'Le Soir', a Belgian paper at the time. Of course, as with any other media taken over by the Germans, Le Soir is used as a propaganda machine and the Front de l'Independance (FI) plans to create a little propaganda of their own.
"But I could not let them know how dangerous, how different, this operation was. We weren't stealing bread or tankers of gin this time. We were stealing things the Nazi's cared about....."
Gruppenfuehrer August Wolff, stationed in Belgium is of the eccentric kind with a high ego. He has his eyes on the FI and tries to infiltrate the efforts of the paper by capturing and placing journalist Marc Aubrion into the production to manipulate and publish propaganda depicting Allies as monsters.
"Once the German machine put an order in motion, it became an act of God. Only a devil or a miracle could stop it, and the Germans had seen to it that they were the only devils in Europe, the only miracle workers."
Marc Aubrion is trapped and tied between two worlds. He has to keep up a facade and do as he is told by Wolff, and at the same time, risks his life by secretly plotting the paper's content against the Germans.
"When a shiny black boot comes to town, it always steps on words and women first."
With a cast full of characters from different walks of life, prostitutes, journalists, and "Lebenskuenstler", Ramzipoor has created a unique story to be told touching beyond the broadness of the things we know about the ratifications of the German ideals. The Ventriloquist is a story full of persona, beauty, and flaws. It tells about the love between same-sex characters, the endurance, strength and will to be while intrigue and backstabbery happens among the ranks.
This dynamic keeps the novel interesting albeit at some points I had a hard time keeping track of who is using whom to sabotage. The exchange of plot points and chapters changes swiftly and is told in a down count of days till the publication of the Faux Soir. A culminating end of the book is not to be missed as this novel is based on true events.
A debut novel of a different kind that is a promising start to more captivating books to follow by Ramzipoor. I would hope so anyway because I really liked the voice, scope, and vision of this author.
*Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof of the novel and are subject to change*
I received a digital copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Many thanks to the publisher. All opinions are my own.