The Bossy Bookworm
Review of The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan
Mark Sullivan explores a gripping, detailed, life-and-death period in the life of an ethnically German family at the end of World War II in this historical fiction inspired by a true story.
"What you seek is what you will find, but only if you hunt it with all your heart and mind."
"Not always," Emil said.
"Always," Corporal Gheorghe insisted.
In The Last Green Valley, Mark Sullivan, author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, tells a tale of a family's incredible bravery and determination in the waning, cruel days of World War II.
It's 1944, and Stalin's forces are rolling through the Ukraine, leaving destruction and horrors in their wake. In order to escape and survive, Emil Martel makes a haunting deal in order to keep his beloved wife, sons, and extended family safe under the umbrella of the retreating Nazi's power.
"If you must look back, try to find the beauty and the benefit in every cruelty done to you. If you must think about the future, try to have no expectations about it."
The Martels run west with the Nazi wolves--finding themselves caught between two ruthless, warring armies--in a desperate journey toward freedom. They suffer, they fear, they grieve, but they endure--and while this story doesn't feel too easy, it's gratifying when the Martels manage to find tiny moments of joy and sparks of hope they can nurture and try to keep alive as they struggle to stay alive themselves.
The Last Green Valley is an exploration of loss, heartbreak, resilience, and particularly of faith. Emil cements his atheist views in the face of unimaginable evils. Early in the book, he snaps, "There is no God, no Almighty One, no Divine, no Universal Intelligence, no moon and stars moving because of dreams. Just your own hard work and what you build for yourself and what you can hide from. That's it!"
Meanwhile his wife Adeline, witnessing the destruction of houses of worship under Stalin, wonders, What possesses men to do such evil? Are they even human? Can't they see that when you kill someone or destroy a holy place, the faith always goes on? Don't they see that in broken hearts and ruins, something always glows?
When Emil suffers beyond what he could have imagined, he undergoes a gradual, grudging transformation in which he finds faith in unexpected places.
Sullivan doesn't flinch from the difficulties this family undergoes, but I had faith that he would give me roughly the ending I was desperately hoping for. (In fact, there was more wrap-up than I personally needed at the end, but I was game for it.)
Some of my absolute favorite aspects of the book were the various characters the Martels encounter, characters who dramatically affect their lives and their mindsets, for better or worse.
Sullivan built this historical fiction around the true story of an ethnically German family running from the Ukraine at the end of World War II, filling in gaps with researched, plausible, but imagined--and captivating--details and events.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Mark Sullivan also wrote Beneath a Scarlet Sky, another historical fiction book based upon a real person and his incredible story.
Interestingly, Sullivan has also authored eight thrillers.