FACT OR FICTION: WHEN HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
I was recently invited to write a post on Storey Book Reviews comparing Russia's current occupation of Ukraine to the fictional Bolshevik invasion of France in my recently released historical fiction novel MIDNIGHT ON THE MARNE. You can find the entire article by clicking on the link below, or scroll down to read the highlights.
Let's start with an excerpt from the novel. To set the stage, Lina and Roland are cousins, 16 and 21 years old respectively, living in a bombed out apartment in Soissons, France which is currently occupied by the Germans who have bested the allies in this fictionalized alternative history plot. There is rumor that the Bolsheviks might be entering France soon.
Excerpt from MIDNIGHT ON THE MARNE
“Come sit down.” Roland waved George over to the table, eager to discuss the latest musings of la résistance. He had joined a group that was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks who’d recently replaced the monarchy in Russia, and Lina didn’t want any part of it in their home. She ardently disapproved of Roland’s association with them.
Roland was a revolutionary, though. He was young and idealistic and impressionable. He wanted everything he’d lost to be worth something, and as long as German was spoken in the streets, that fire would burn inside of him.
“Have you heard the news, George?”
George shook his head no, as he took the spot beside Paul. The only news that found its way into their lives was through Lina and Roland, and Lina’s news was rarely about Russians.
“Lenin and his men have moved into Germany.”
“Assez de ces absurdités.” As Lina scolded Roland from the stove, George tried to translate her words. Enough absurdity.
“This is important, Lina. This is our country. Our home. Don’t you want the Germans out?”
“Of course I do,” Lina hissed. “But you need to keep your voice down. You don’t know who is listening.”
“No one is interested in us,” Roland replied. “When have you ever seen a German on this side of town?”
“Exactly. They leave us alone. So why do I want someone else to come in and make things worse?”
“They are our allies, Lina. We are fighting this war against Germany together.”
“They are not our allies,” Lina spat back. “They signed a treaty with Germany behind our backs, and now they are taking advantage of Germany’s weakened position at their border and pushing towards France. What do you think they will do when they get here?”
Roland and Lina went back and forth, seamlessly slipping between English and French, neither willing to compromise their position. Roland sang praises to Lenin and his Bolsheviks, glorifying the awakening that was spreading through Europe. But the truth, Lina insisted, was muddled and vague. There was no honor among thieves. The ink hadn’t even dried on the treaty the Russians had signed with the Germans when Lenin had led them through the eastern front like water through a sieve. They’d waited only long enough for the Boche to shift their troops from the Russian front to the French one, and then they’d simply walked across the border and promised food to the hungry, rest to the wary, and riches to the poor.
Wherever Lina got her information was a guarded secret, but she didn’t come to the conversations unprepared.
“You think Lenin is a good man, but is he not a conqueror? Is he not trying to take our lands? You will be sorry if he shows up at your door. Mark my words, Roland.”
Fact or Fiction?
Being an alternative timeline novel, Midnight on the Marne has themes of what if. With everything going on in Europe right now do you see any parallels to history repeating itself and the direction you took in your fictional novel with the Bolsheviks stepping in when the Germans couldn’t maintain their hold on France?
Absolutely. I wrote Midnight on the Marne before Putin’s latest invasion of Ukraine, but it’s certainly not surprising to me that it happened. Or that his justification for war has nothing to do with money or power but with the safety and security of his people. What better way to get your citizens on board than to suggest their lives are in danger if they don’t act?
At the heart of war is power – ownership – and when a power vacuum is created, it doesn’t stay empty for long. That was the world I created in Midnight on the Marne. The Germans signing a treaty with Russia during WWI was a real event in history, along with the shift of German troops from their eastern front to their western front in France. I just took the creative liberty of having the newly formed Bolshevik regime in Russia take advantage of that weakness and start their own invasion into Germany and France under the premise of spreading communism – a new and better way of life for the people who were suffering from wartime shortages – and pitting one antagonist against the other. When your country is being invaded by multiple aggressors, how do you decide who is the lessor of the two evils.
The Russian war in Ukraine is a bit of a different beast, although it’s certainly an attempt at a power grab on Putin’s part. Unlike Germany in WWI, Ukraine isn’t at war with anyone else and offers no threat to the countries around it. But because the Ukrainians haven’t been offered the protection of NATO, Putin believes they will be easy targets. So far, he has vastly underestimated their strength and courage.
But shifting borders have been a constant throughout history and will remain so. It’s easy to look through the lens of history and to be able to see all the moving parts like a well-choreographed performance. To be able to say with confidence that this side was right, this leader was wrong, this country should have acted sooner. But in the moment, war is often disjointed and confusing, and it isn’t until it’s over and you’re caught with your mouth hanging open that you ask yourself, what if?
What if we had been paying attention? What if we had seen the writing on the wall? What if we had done something?
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