Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dragontail Buttonhole - a novel of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by Peter Curtis

Greetings, comrades!
I told you I was on a WWII binge. Today's book is The Dragontail Buttonhole by Peter Curtis.

Prague, 1939. Willy and Sophie Kohut own a prosperous business specializing in selling British fabrics for tailoring suits. When the Nazis occupy Czechoslovakia, Willy is arrested and accused of spying for Britain. After Sophie engineers his release, they decide to flee the country for the sake of their toddler, Pavel. Paying a small-time smuggler and using counterfeit Hungarian passports, they journey through Hungary and Germany itself, on an exodus full of unexpected twists that test their courage, and their love.

My thoughts:
The title of the novel The Dragontail Buttonhole is a bit of a mouthful. You basically have two composite words side by side. But strangely, the linguist in me is delighted. The title works well visually and phonetically, because it mimics the composition of German words and contributes to that pseudo-Germanic ambiance that the Nazis established on their occupied territories. There are so many WWII themed novels set in Poland that the occupation of Czechoslovakia seems to fall by the wayside, but I see the tide turning. Last year a magnificent movie "Anthropoid" came out, dealing with the mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect behind the Final Solution. Czechs and Slovaks were also Slavs, like Poles and Russians, which meant that the Nazis had no qualms about slaughtering them as "untermeschen".

The protagonist of The Dragontail Buttonhole is accessible and archetypal - without being stereotypical. Willy is a refined and prosperous young businessman of Jewish stock who works in textiles. His ethnicity is not an issue at the time of peace - he downplays his Jewish heritage and does not flaunt his religious beliefs, and his facial features are ethnically neutral, enabling him to pass for a Slav or a Hungarian. His house is open to prospective clients and business partners of Christian faith. He makes frequent trips to England where his parents live. All that changes when Germans march through Czechoslovakia and Willy is accused of being a British spy. His youthful wife Sophie has to muster all the courage and guile in the world to secure his release. However, Willy's release is only the first step towards salvation.

The author does a great job creating the ambiance of apprehension and dread that you would expect from a novel dealing with Nazi occupation. It's a perfectly balanced blend of adventure, hardcore history and noir. If you fond of "escape from the Nazis" fiction and memoirs, definitely add this novel to your list. 

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