Book Review: Lana’s War by Anita Abriel

  • Title: Lana’s War
  • Author: Anita Abriel
  • Publisher: Atria Press
  • Publication Day: January 12, 2021
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, World War II Fiction

From Goodreads:

Paris 1943: Lana Antanova is on her way to see her husband with the thrilling news that she is pregnant. But when she arrives at the convent where he teaches music, she’s horrified to see Gestapo officers execute him for hiding a Jewish girl in the piano.

A few months later, grieving both her husband and her lost pregnancy, Lana is shocked when she’s approached to join the resistance on the French Riviera. As the daughter of a Russian countess, Lana has the perfect background to infiltrate the émigré community of Russian aristocrats who socialize with German officers, including the man who killed her husband.

Lana’s cover story makes her the mistress of Guy Pascal, a wealthy Swiss industrialist and fellow resistance member, in whose villa in Cap Ferrat she lives. Together, they gather information on upcoming raids and help members of the Jewish community escape. Consumed by her work, she doesn’t expect to become attached to a young Jewish girl or wonder about the secrets held by the man whose house she shares. And as the Nazis’ deadly efforts intensify, her intention to protect those around her may put them all at risk instead.

With Anita Abriel’s “heartfelt and memorable” (Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author) storytelling, Lana’s War is a sweeping and suspenseful tale of survival and second chances during some of the darkest days of history.

My review:

I’ve read several historical fiction novels set during World War II, but I’ve never read one that focused on the French Resistance. Lana’s War does that, and it’s fascinating!

Lana is on her way to the convent where her husband, Frederic, teaches. She has wonderful news to share. But things take a horrible turn when he tries to defend a Jewish girl from the Gestapo and is shot dead for his efforts. Lana is devastated, and her misery is compounded when she loses the baby that she never got to tell Frederic about.

When Lana is offered an opportunity to work with the French Resistance, she decides to do what she can to help others. As the daughter of a Russian countess, she is in a unique position to mingle with the Russian expatriate community on the Riviera – a community that happens to rub elbows with a lot of high-ranking German solders, including the man who shot Lana’s husband. She poses as the mistress of Guy Pascal, a wealthy Swiss businessman. Guy is also part of the Resistance, and he and Lana are to work together to help Jews escape the clutches of the ever-persistent Germans.

I can’t imagine being put into a situation where I had lost my husband and then had to pretend to be another man’s lover just a few months later. That’s what Lana had to do. Not surprisingly, her relationship with Guy was a little strained at first. Her impulsiveness early in the mission doesn’t help. She befriends a Jewish woman, Sophie, and her daughter, Odette, with almost no thought to the fact that it might draw unwanted attention from the Germans. To say Guy is unhappy with this would be an understatement.

But they work past the rough beginning, and Lana soon uses her assets to an advantage, attracting both the attention of Captain Von Harmon and Alois Brunner, the man who killed Frederic. She and Guy, working together, are able to capitalize on the Germans’ interest, distracting them from raids and allowing the Resistance to move boatloads of Jews out of the Riviera to safety in England.

Several moments in this book had me holding my breath as I moved from page to page. The tension was palpable as a game of German cat and Resistance mouse progressed. There were near misses and sticky situations, and it made for an engrossing story.

The descriptions of the French Riviera and high society there were just luscious. It sounds like it would be lovely to visit when there isn’t a war going on! And relationships seemed to fall into place rather quickly, but I understand that the urgency of wartime puts a new perspective on things. The budding romance between Lana and Guy adds a little lightness to a heavy time, and Lana’s heart for others motivates her actions, even when they sometimes seem to be the wrong ones.

My only gripe was the ending. I’m not saying whether it’s a “happily ever after” or not, just that it didn’t go in the direction I initially expected/hoped for. But again, in the context of war, and in the context of the characters being who they were, it makes a kind of sense.

Four stars for a fascinating story and a different point of view on the World War II era. Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Press for an advance reader copy.

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