The Letter

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
262 Pages
Reviewed on 04/17/2021
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Author Biography

Barry Cole was born in Yorkshire and after leaving the army he began contributing stories and articles to the monthly magazines of two Native American charities. With a love of film, he then studied for two years at the London Screenwriters Workshop. His first book, The Time Bandit was published in 2016, followed by a historical novel Shingas a few months later. His third book The Conquistadors Horse was published in 2018 and has been optioned as a short film by Looking Window Pictures. His latest book The Letter, inspired by the Battle of Stalingrad is due for publication by Michael Terence Publishing in early 2021. After living on a narrowboat for several years he has now returned to his roots in North Yorkshire.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Velma Lang for Readers' Favorite

Germany is desperate and apprehensive in 1945. Russian soldiers patrol and women scavenge in the rubble. So begins The Letter by Barry Cole. We wonder why Hannah and her children are given shelter by an older couple, Otto and his wife. The scene then focuses on Sgt. Franz Mayer in Stalingrad, Russia as he and his soldiers battle house by house and street by street, retreating from the Russian juggernaut and the severe winter. Franz is eventually alone as all are killed. Although he fights bravely against the odds with other units, his troops are wiped out. In the last desperate days of retreat, he avoids execution for desertion. Otto, a train driver, helps him return home where Hannah hides him in the basement. Ultimately, he must make a decision to remain hidden or return to a battle that may be futile. What will he decide?

The authenticity of The Letter by Barry Cole strikes at the very heart of war. It is very real and we are there. In The Letter, we are drawn into Franz’s fate as he leads his men with skill and nurtures them with compassion. Their camaraderie and bonding are supported by realistic dialogue. His comrades are personal losses to him and so we care about him and them as their sacrifices exemplify the human cost of war. Although descriptions are horrific, we very much want Franz to escape the horror and return to his family. The Letter is a masterful portrayal by Barry Cole of the cruelty and inhumanity of war. Well done. Read it.

Mamta Madhavan

The Letter by Barry Cole is a fascinating and harrowing story that throws light on the perils of war and the importance of family. Franz Meyer was a sergeant with the German Sixth Army, and as he and his fellow soldiers try to defend Stalingrad from the Russians who are hellbent on retaking the city, his wife and children wait patiently in Germany to hear from him. When it was time for him to get out of Stalingrad, he knew it was not going to be easy. By 1944, Franz and the rest of the soldiers knew they had lost the war, and when he reached home he devised a plan to save his family.

The Letter shows the destruction caused by war and also the conflict and trauma in the mind of a soldier torn between defending his nation and his family. The detailed and descriptive narration makes the images and the scenes of war vivid to readers, pulling them right into the story. The sergeant's love for and desire to serve his country, yet at the same time be with his family and lead a happy life with them, is moving and the brutal killings and deaths associated with war will leave readers saddened. The pain the soldiers face being on the war front, whichever side they are on, is irrelevant when it comes to their desire to lead a normal life with their families. I like the way Meyer's character has been developed in the story; he shows a gamut of emotions as he goes through his duties of being a soldier, a husband, and a father, and the helplessness and hopelessness of his circumstances have been well expressed, making it palpable to readers. Barry Cole weaves history, drama, and fiction into the story and makes it a compelling read.

Grant Leishman

The Letter by Barry Cole is a bittersweet, deeply moving, and harrowing treatise on the wastefulness of war and the importance of family. Franz Mayer is a sergeant with the German Sixth Army, desperately trying to defend Stalingrad from the Russians who are equally determined to retake the city. In the depths of a Russian winter, Mayer and his fellow soldiers are concerned only with surviving and somehow making it out of this hell but the powers that be make it clear – “hold Stalingrad at all costs”. Back home in Germany, Franz’s wife and two children wait patiently and fearfully for news of their beloved husband and father. When all of Franz’s company are decimated in a Soviet attack, he knows it is time to get out of Stalingrad and link up with other units of the German Army. But getting out will definitely not be an easy task for this battle-hardened and war-weary German soldier. By 1944, Franz and most of his fellow soldiers realize the war is lost and as the high command begins committing grandfathers and children to the defense of the Reich, Franz makes a brief run to get home to his wife and children. Whilst there, he concocts a plan that will save them should the worst happen to him, before returning to the front lines and the Western Front, facing the might of the American Army as it pushes towards Berlin.

The Letter is a deeply moving testament to the futility of war and the ridiculous sacrifices that it imposes on ordinary people, as almost an entire generation of Germans is wiped off the map. Author Barry Cole pulls no punches in his descriptions of the hellish nature of the battlefield and the horrific injuries and brutal deaths that await its participants. Not for the squeamish, this story takes us up close and personal inside the mind and psyche of an ordinary sergeant, with no pretensions other than a deep love of his country, a desire to serve, and desperation to survive and return home to his family. The author’s descriptive prose is beautifully detailed and takes us right inside the environments that Franz finds himself, be it the bombed-out shell that was Stalingrad, the endless, snowy Russian steppes, or the horrors of the field infirmary. What shines through in this narrative is the overarching understanding that, for ordinary soldiers, the motivation is exactly the same, regardless of which side of the conflict they find themselves. How easy it is to paint the enemy as evil, faceless, tyrants when what this novel shows is that any army is made up of men (and women, as Franz discovered) who believe in exactly the same things, especially the love of family and the fervent desire to return to them and live their lives in peace. This is a powerful treatise against war and for family that I can highly recommend. I thoroughly enjoyed this read.