Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Romancing the Enemy

Two lovers on opposite sides of a war, or of any human conflict, has been a universal theme throughout the long history of art and literature. We need only recall Shakespeare’s feuding Montagues and Capulets to exemplify the tale of ill-fated love. Modern fiction and film carry on this heartrending tradition.

When I first envisioned my World War II romance novel, In the Arms of the Enemy (contracted with The Wild Rose Press), I chose the brutal setting of a war as the perfect foil to offset a tender love story. As a literary device, what obstacle could more dramatically keep ‘boy from girl’ than forcing them to face each other in battle, at least metaphorically?

As an added challenge to my prospective readers, I costumed my hero in a German uniform, casting him as an officer in the dreaded Army of the Third Reich. For the average American romance reader, a character in this role evokes little sympathy. And how could a courageous heroine, fighting for her country’s freedom against the invading Nazis, possibly fall in love with such a brute?

I’d like to take full credit for this ingenious plot invention but this is not new ground. Since the end of World War II, books and movies have been released with plots hinging on, or at least hinting at this theme. The poignancy of ‘star-crossed lovers’, thrown together by the vagaries of war, doomed by circumstance to tragedy, fascinates and enthralls the romantically inclined among viewers and readers.

Françoise, a young Frenchwoman in the 1958 film The Young Lions, at first despises the attentions of Lieutenant Christian Diestl, viewing him as just another German swine occupying her country. Finally able to see beyond the Wehrmacht uniform to Christian’s humanity, she overcomes her distaste and ends up willingly in his arms.

While Françoise merely feels antipathy towards the Germans, Jewish heroine Rachel Stein in Black Book (2006) actively fights them. After witnessing the massacre of her family by the Nazis she joins the Dutch Resistance, assuming the identity of Ellis de Vries, a beautiful Gentile woman who beds German officer Ludwig Müntze. Rachel/Ellis manages to infiltrate German headquarters to gain information for the Resistance. Ludwig turns out to be not such a bad Nazi after all, protecting his lover from the really bad Nazis when he discovers what she is up to. Though her affair with the handsome German begins as a ruse to spy on the enemy, she can’t help falling in love with him.

One might wonder how much romance can be found in a film with virtually no female roles, set aboard a U-boat fathoms beneath the Atlantic. But as we watch the forlorn German sailor in Das Boot (1981) read his French girlfriend’s love letter and gaze wistfully at her photograph, we know as well as he that their affair is doomed. Any fragment of hope for ‘happily-ever-after’ dissolves when he tells his shipmate that she is pregnant. With a half-German bastard in her womb, her prospects of avoiding the vengeance of her countrymen are almost as remote as her lover’s chances of surviving the depth charges of the Allies.

In Michael Wallner’s wrenching novel April in Paris, Corporal Roth finds emotional refuge from his distasteful duties at German headquarters by posing as a Frenchman when off-duty, trying to blend in with the locals. His flawless French accent conceals his identity as a member of the occupying Army. Little does he know that Chantal, the Frenchwoman he romances, is connected with the Resistance. Tragically, as with all of the movies cited above, their affair is destined for heartbreak.

The message here, I’d like to think, is that men and women are first and foremost human beings, not merely a nationality, religion or race. And human beings can’t help but succumb to love, at least as often as they succumb to hate. For a German Romeo and a French/Dutch/Jewish Juliet, plunged into the horrors of the Second World War, lifelong bliss is all but an impossible dream. Yet if you’re intrigued by a love affair between enemies, you needn’t despair of a happy ending. Just wait for the publication of my novel, In the Arms of the Enemy. You’ll be hearing more about that in the months to come…


Lise said...

What a stunning post, Lis! Beautifully argued and lovely examples of the ill-fated loves. All too true, as well - because the human heart does not recognize borders. Certainly the "Romeo and Juliet" plot has no more powerful opportunity than when placed in the context of a war. The conflict, and the life and death stakes, guarantee a riveting story. Whether rendered in fiction that permits for either ending, or a romantic novel that requires a "happily ever after", it is a strong choice for an author. I'll be keeping my eye out for more posts and updates on In The Arms of the Enemy!

Melissa Marsh said...

Great post. I, too, wrote a novel about "star-crossed" lovers - an American woman and a German POW. I gave them a happy ending, as well. :-)

Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks, Lise, and I will definitely keep you updated!

Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks, Melissa. What's the name of your book and where can I find it? I have to read it!

Misty Evans said...

Lisbeth, thanks for sharing your take on the star-crossed lovers theme. You are so right that we are all humans first. Maybe there would be fewer wars if we embraced that thought.

Best wishes with your book!

Lisbeth Eng said...

I agree, Misty. What we need is more embracing and less war!

Pauline B Jones said...

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has a subplot of forbidden romance in it. Sort of a post war look at the German Occupation of the Guernsey Islands during WWII.

Great blog, Lisbeth!

Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks, Pauline! Someone just lent me that book but I haven't read it yet. There was a BBC series a few years ago called "Island at War" about the German occupation of one of the Channel Islands. It's 6 hours long (if I remember correctly) and there is a sub plot about a romance between a British girl and a German airman. She gets into a lot of trouble for having an affair with one of the "enemy". French girls caught in similar situations were ostracized after the liberation of France (having their heads shaved or worse).
I'll have put that "Guernsey Literary" book at the top of my dauntingly long "to-be-read" list!

FSolomon said...

i love romance stories best where people fall in love with someone who there would be a conflict with, or whom they might even hate. i think it is the most intriguing... book is such a good movie too!

Lisbeth Eng said...

I agree. Without conflict it wouldn't be a very interesting story. And sometimes hate can evolve into love.
Thanks for stopping by, Fidencia!

Anonymous said...

Lis, a very interesting post, thank you!

I have seen the Black book, and even though it was partly brutal, I liked the movie. From my original neighbor land, Norway, which also was occupied by the Germans there are several horrible stories about the girls who hade relations with Germans. They and also their kids where not accepted from the Norwegian society. The most information on the web is not in English, but this link gives you a flavor, not so far away the story in Black book.

My wife's Grandpa was in the war on the German side, he could talk about his time in France with a smile and obviously he had some nice memories from there. He was later transferred to the east front and was several years a POW in the Sovjet. From this time he never said a word. Maybe he was trying to block it out of his memory we don't know.

I'm looking forward to read you book


Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks for the link, Hans. I took a quick look and will read it more carefully when I have a little time. Similar things happened to girls in France, too. Too bad your wife's grandfather didn't want to talk about his experiences as a POW but I'm sure they were very traumatic.

Jen Childers said...

HI Lisbeth!
Terrific post. I really enjoyed it.
Its great to find another author brave enough to write abuot the Germans during WW2.

I'll be keeping tabs on you and I look forward to reading more about your books and blogs.

take care,
who isn't a stalker.

Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks, Jen! It's great to touch base with another TWRP WWII author. Your book, Kindertransport, deftly explores the complex issues which faced Germans during the era of the Third Reich. I enjoyed it very much. I agree; it is not easy to challenge the stereotype that all Germans during that period were bad guys. I'm so glad you like my blog. Thanks for stopping by!

staci said...

Great examples of star-crossed lovers! It is so true that the powers of attraction, and of the heart resonate within an individual much more than the powers of any sovereign can maneuver. I await your novel with the happy ending!

Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks, Staci! And I'm looking forward to hearing your comments on my novel (when it's released).


Jen Childers said...

just wanted to say a quick hi.
as another wrp author. I am looking forward to the book coming out.

Lisbeth Eng said...

Hi Jen,
Thanks for stopping by!

iliya_rose16 said...

dear author i absolutely love your idea that when should see beyond our difference,we find nothing else but just another human being who is as much worthy of all that you think are worthy of.i will definitely read your new release and i know i will find it great like all your other you!

Lisbeth Eng said...

Thanks for your comments, and I hope you enjoy IN THE ARMS OF THE ENEMY. You can buy it at The Wild Rose Press website (there's a "buy" button on my website, or at or (It is available online as a paperback and as an e-book. It is not in "brick and mortar" bookstores.)
Let me know if you like it!