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Reviewed by Ray Hosler for Readers' Favorite
The Center of Gravity by Patricia Brandon has an intriguing title, one that makes you think. After reading this historical novel you’ll find yourself dissecting aspects of the book’s storyline and “what ifs.” This is a sweeping novel that takes the reader from the days leading up to World War 2 to post-war South Carolina, where the children of the main characters grow up and find their own adventures. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. The first half of the book had me from the get-go as I learned about the lives of two families swept up in the events leading to the Second World War. One family was French, but with a German name as they lived in a region known as Alsace-Lorraine on the border with France and Germany. A Jewish family is befriended by the von Bauchelle family in 1933 just as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party come to power. Josef and Rainer become close friends as they struggle to maintain their “center of gravity” or normalcy in these tumultuous years. These two characters, and Sonne Becker, are well developed by the author. I became invested in their situation and found myself hoping for the best, even though I knew that the odds of a happy ending were slim.
I appreciated the level of historical accuracy in The Center of Gravity. The author devoted considerable time and attention to getting her facts right. It makes the novel all the more engaging as her characters play their roles during historical events. The scenes involving Adolf Hitler and Wolf’s Lair (located in Poland), where the dictator conducted military operations surrounded by his generals, offered compelling reading. The relationship between Sonne and Conrad, an SS officer who gives her aid and comfort, is heartbreaking. Their chemistry in a difficult situation creates an interesting dynamic between a man and a woman and what is expected when one helps another. Their relationship alone makes The Center of Gravity a must-read for anyone interested in the subject or the savoir-faire of human relationships. Additionally, the writing is pleasing to read. Here’s an example: “Sonne saw the pools of sorrow that crested in her mother’s eyes, bittersweet reflections of the timeless passage of the matriarch role from one to another.”
This is a novel that bends the rules of novel writing but maintains its center of gravity despite an unconventional approach. Typically we expect to have the main character be with us throughout the novel. She or he deals with challenging situations. Patricia Brandon’s main characters come and go. However, the author does a good job of tying up loose ends and creating a cohesive story despite the dramatic transition in time and space halfway through the novel. While that thread keeps the novel whole, you might find yourself wishing that some characters didn’t exit the stage. Enjoy them while you can!