cover image The Verdun Affair

The Verdun Affair

Nick Dybek. Scribner, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9176-3

Dybek’s gripping second novel (after When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man), a cleverly constructed page-turner, travels back and forth in time between a European continent devastated by World War I and 1950s Hollywood. Tom Combs is an American ambulance driver who stays on in the war’s aftermath to work for a priest, collecting the bones of dead soldiers from the battlefields of Verdun. He falls in love with Sarah Hagen, a fellow American, but she has come to France looking for news of her “missing, believed dead” husband. Sarah goes off in search of information, and Tom takes a job as a journalist in Paris. They meet again in Bologna in 1922, when a soldier creates a sensation after showing up in a hospital there with no recollection of who he is. Sarah believes the mysterious soldier is her husband, though others have reason to believe otherwise. Years later, Tom, working in Hollywood, comes across Paul, a fellow journalist from those heady days in Italy, and, reliving their unresolved past, they discover each entertains a different version of the truth. 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 about the amnesiac. Dybek’s novel is a complex tale of memory, choice, and the sacrifices one sometimes makes by doing the right thing. [em]Agent: Julie Barer, the Book Group. (June) [/em]