The Constant Soldier was published on 25 August 2016 by Mantle and is available to buy here
The pain woke him up. He was grateful for it. The train had stopped and somewhere, up above them, the drone of aircraft engines filled the night sky. He could almost remember her smile . . . It must be the morphine . . . He had managed not to think about her for months now.
1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.
When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.
But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.
And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .
The Constant Soldier is an extraordinary and powerful historical drama. All the rumours about it are completely true. It left me speechless. It moved me in the most profound way. It left me with a sense of peace about the world. With taut electrifying poignant prose, we get a complete sense of what it is like to be a soldier during war time.
Paul Brandt returns from the battlefield disfigured and a changed man. It is 1944 and Brandt is a soldier, with disabilities returning to his home village. He spies a familiar face, a woman political prisoner and this changes his life. Brandt surprises his family taking work in a retreat attached to a concentration camp. It is hard to imagine SS soldiers having a social life. However William Ryan based his story on the true account of a retreat at Auschwitz for the SS. This is the story of Brandt wanting to save a girl, of good triumphing over evil and one man’s goodness in the face of inhumanity.
This was a horrific time. William Ryan’s The Constant Soldier reflects how challenging it is to live through the worst times, of the blurring of morality and the degradation of humanity. We see how hard it is to return from the battlefield and to live with differing values. We follow Brandt’s struggle, as he works and lives amongst evil. Brandt is an everyman type of character. A man unfortunate enough to be drafted into the army. He is a man with a conscience and a heart. He is the sort of person we all would want to be, when faced with pure evil and we have to make a choice. He wants to make amends. He is trying to do his best. He is looking for an opportunity to save a women. For the Germans, the end is in sight. The Russians are coming. Tension is mounting. Soon the camp will cease to exist. The prisoners are living through this casual brutality and hardship. Their only hope is to stay invisible enough to survive.
Beautiful. Wonderful. Stirring. Disturbing. William Ryan, thank you for one of the best stories I have read this year. Recommended!