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Eleven-year-old Lydia returns to her home in a small village in England during the Second World War to find that her mother has left, and the whole village is deserted. But in the house she finds a man. He won't say who he is, but he threatens her and makes her stay, threatening her with his gun. He tells her little about himself, but he is wounded. The novel follows their time together over the next several days, and we learn about their pasts that brought them together, as the narrator tells the reader about what the two are thinking and remembering. This is a harrowing novel, telling of the pain that both have both gone through. He is a German soldier, and he has come as part of a mission which it turns out he has made his own. He recalls his former life in Germany before the war, and his romance with a woman who was critical of the rise of the Nazi Party. The two of them want to stay together as a couple, but he gets called up into the army and he has to serve for the Nazi cause. He has to make choices that he knows that his beloved would despise. He ends up spending time in Norway, where his group captures some enemy soldiers, and they travel with their prisoners from town to town. The tension with his fellow Germans is greater than that with the prisoners, and this raises the question of where his true loyalties lie. He is not necessarily clear about his own convictions at the start, but his main priority is looking after himself when his own welfare is at risk.
The soldier's tale is violent and tragic in the ways that are typical of war. Lydia's story also has familiar themes: for example, her elder brother joined the army and their mother was very worried about whether he was safe. They had a little Jewish boy billeted with them who could not speak English, and Lydia was somewhat cruel to him. We see some of the ways in which home life was changed by the war, and the hardships that Lydia and her family had to endure. But much about her situation is mysterious, such as where her mother is and why her town has been evacuated. But the main mystery is what the soldier will do and what his plans are. She is young and childish, and so there's much she doesn't understand, but she is old enough to be curious and to try to work it out for herself. She knows she is at great risk from him, but she has to decide how much to cooperate with him in order to increase her chances of survival. She also has to decide to how much to maintain her allegiance to her family even when that could put her at risk.
Their interaction is gripping; each struggles with their own values and how much they are willing to compromise to survive. They come to understand each other more, but desperation and fear are powerful distorting forces. The Dynamite Room provides a compelling story of two people thrown together in a very strange and difficult situation, making it a memorable novel.
The performance of the unabridged audiobook by Will Thorp is consistent and grim in tone, with enough energy to keep the listener's interest.
© 2015 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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