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*Reviewed by Mark for Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews*
In reviews the term raw and gritty is often used although for myself I’m always at a bit of a loss as to exactly what this term means or is trying to say. If we refer to raw as being realistic then this book is definitely that. It is set in a period of history that for a lot of people a HEA would never have been a realistic option and this book does exactly that. There are no harp playing cupids shooting arrows of love at the end of this book. But that’s exactly why I liked it so much as it deals with the raw or realistic situation and doesn’t fluff up a period of history for the sake of romance and having to fit in a happy ever after. Our story starts in The Netherlands just before the German occupation.
Stefan is married, has a family to support and is out of work. A time not only for Germany but for many other European countries where inflation was sky high along with unemployment. He has to queue up every week to receive his pittance for unemployment benefit so he can feed his family. This is where he meets Adri. I loved the way that the author deals with their first meeting. It’s a time in history where the only way to be sure that you are of the same ilk is a process of being careful and using coded language. Not giving too much away to incriminate yourself but enough to let the other person know how you are thinking and feeling. This is why I find the whole aspect of historical novels so fascinating, it reminds me of a time where you couldn’t be open and yet there is a great sense of solidarity once you have met other people who are the same.
Stefan at first is rather reticent about his feelings for Adri, after all he is married and has a family, but there is no denying the physical attraction he feels for him. This for me was the pivotal point of the book. Some people would ask, why is he married then? Is he bi? Well, this can never be answered easily. Like many men in this time, due to the expectations of society and it’s attitudes to being gay, many gay men would have got married to fulfil those roles. They would have fathered children and try to live the normal life while spending the rest of their lives fighting against their true nature. Did Stefan have a sexless marriage? Well no, but you could say that it was a cool and emotionless one deriving from the fact his wife just “performs” her marital duties with no emotion. In the end it does become a sexless marriage but one where both sides could quite happily live with. A kind of “close your eyes and think of England” the deed or duty is done. His wife is not a horrible person, just not able to give Stefan what he needs in bed.
~ Stefan: “We’ll never be sure what our love means, but whoever knows a thing like that for sure? People can make children without love, and people can love without making children. I’m here with you because there is no place on this earth I would rather be, and there’s no human being, man or woman, in whose arms I’d rather rest. If that’s a dead-end street, then so be it.” ~
When Stefan meets Adri then you can feel his blood pulsing through his veins with passion and lust. It’s like a drug. Adri is different as he knows who he is and accepts his fate of being gay with a more realistic outlook on the facts than Stefan does. Stefan runs the whole gamut of emotions from denial, to thinking that he is ill, trying to go against his true nature to falling helplessly in love with someone in a time where they would never be able to have a real or open relationship. As far as Stefan’s wife and family are concerned Adri just becomes the family's best friend and spends a lot of his time with them. Stefan and Adri then have to use the very rare moments they get alone to make love. But necessity is the mother of invention, leading to a cloak and dagger life of subterfuge. Stefan loves his children like any other father, his wife is like his best friend but no one could speak of love. Knowing the truth would be too much for his her, so therefore does it involve cheating? Well, I’m afraid it does but his wife never finds out. She may suspect something but it is the one elephant in the room that will never be talked about. She needs Stefan to support the family because as a female the option of being a single mum would be far worse. Did I feel sorry for her? Yes and no. She is a strong woman but again the period would also leave her no other choice so she makes do with what she has and doesn’t complain. Also for her Adri becomes part of the family and a kind of unofficial, surrogate uncle for her children.
Stefan and Adri have to live out their love in the shadows and those shadows become even darker when the Germans occupy The Netherlands. I liked very much what the author did here. She did not portray the occupying forces, at least those that Stefan and Adri encounter, as some kind of evil, Hollywood style German Nazi. They are ordinary men caught up in the political machinery of the day just trying to survive like everyone else in a time where the world went mad. So good and bad on both sides, nothing is ever as black and white, cut and dried as it may seem. Stefan’s and Adri’s feelings and love will remain under wraps for as long as they live but that makes the moments of intimacy they have together all that more precious. Moments to treasure and enjoy for the rest of their lives.
~Adri: “That’s the problem, isn’t it? Love. Lust stops once it’s sated, and friendship is innocent enough, but you never know how long love will last. I could leave you and the love might still be there for the rest of your life. You could decide never to see me again, but it might not be enough to stop the love. I love making love with you, but I don’t need it to love you—and that is what we couldn’t have foreseen, six years ago.”
The book spans several years from before the German occupation, during and up to the liberation of The Netherlands. And all this time we follow Stefan and Adri as their love deepens for each other despite all the odds being stacked against them. Here for me is the beauty in this book which takes a look at a relationship having to be hid from the rest of the world. It’s like sharing or being part of a secret that no one else is privy to, only Stefan, Adri and the reader. You develop a sense of solidarity with them like no other couple and that is why the ending is all the more poignant as you know there will be no HEA for these two in this period of history. Therefore, when the The Netherlands is liberated Adri has to take the small chance of happiness being offered him by the liberating forces. Both Stefan and Adri take this parting stoically and realistically, knowing there is no other option. Both realise they are unable to change things and accept it for what it is.
~ Adri: “They’ll forget about us, Stefan—or, more likely, they’ll never acknowledge guys like us risked our necks for a society that prefers not to know we even exist.”
This is an extremely thought provoking story. A story that will also make the reader reflect and think but will also make you appreciate what we have today all the more. A bittersweet romance that will have the reader hoping all the best for Stefan and Adri wherever their futures may take them.