Across the Winding River, a review by Allison

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Across the Winding River
Historical Fiction

301 Pages
Aimie K. Runyan

Published August 1, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing

Back in March of 2019, my book club, Between the Covers, celebrated its 5th birthday. We were THRILLED when author Aimie K. Runyan joined us via Skype to discuss her book, “Girls on the Line”. Such an amazing author and a very warm person! We loved being able to take turns asking questions and she was so gracious to spend part of her Sunday afternoon with us!

Runyan’s latest beauty is told through three points of view:  Max, a dual timeline story within itself, once a dentist-turned-medic in the second world war and now as a 90 year old in poor health;  Johanna, a young woman living in Germany during the war, whose family is deeply affected by Hitler’s reign; and present day through Beth, Max’s daughter.

When the story begins, we find ourselves in 2007 California, where Max is living in a private care home.  When his declining health can no longer be ignored, he requests that Beth bring him his war memorabilia to get into order. While gathering these items, Beth finds an old picture of Max and a woman, who is NOT her mother.  This ignites her curiosity, as the woman is visibly pregnant and looking very much in love. In the spirit of no spoilers, I will stop there.

The author does such a great job of describing the family relationships between characters. The present-day father-daughter relationship between Max and Beth is so sweet; Beth is understandably worried for her father’s health and the time they spend together allows her a glimpse into his life as a young soldier. Beth’s ex-husband also plays a small role, if nothing else to remind us that divorce does not necessarily mean a lack of love for one another.

Back in 1940’s Germany, the relationships between Johanna and her husband, Harald, as well as her mother, brother and sister are explored.  Dealing with loss, trust issues and Hitler himself are everyday occurrences. Harold having to go to war,  younger brother Oskar joining the Hitler youth and younger sister Metta’s offer of marriage from an SS officer – all while a war rages- add to the terror of their everyday life.

Max’s experiences in the war and the choices he makes throughout his time in Germany show his strong and loyal character. It also puts him on a trajectory that affects everyone when he falls in love with a resistance fighter, Margarethe. Could she be the one in the photo? And if so, what happened to her? Sixty years later, questions are starting to be answered.

This book was so, so good.  Max’s beautiful heart, loyalty to his family and his country just made me fall head over heels for him.

I never felt as though any of the characters were secondary….I absolutely loved the premise of a dying man and his daughter, searching for someone from his past during WW2.

I always look to see how books resonate with me on a personal level. This one drew me in immediately, as I never had my dad with me as an adult. Sadly, he died when I was 21 and still in that phase where his past didn’t interest me. I can only imagine if I were able to talk to him now- he would have been 80 this year- about his time in the Navy and his life before he met my mother. This story stayed with me for a long time and has encouraged me to ask more questions about my ancestors and listen to the stories I am told.

This book was amazing and is definitely one I would recommend for anyone who enjoys WW2 stories, dual timelines and father-daughter-sister-brother relationships.

And friends. Family. And love.

Loyalty and redemption.

For fighting for what you believe in and forgiving yourself. And living your life to the fullest.

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