THE VERDUN AFFAIR
A sweeping, romantic, and profoundly moving novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s, about a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart.
In 1921, two young Americans meet in Verdun, the city in France where one of the most devastating battles of the war was waged. Tom is an orphan from Chicago, a former ambulance driver now gathering bones from the battlefield; Sarah is an expatriate from Boston searching for the husband who wandered off from his division and hasn’t been seen since. Quickly, the two fall into a complicated affair against the ghostly backdrop of the ruined city. Months later, Sarah and Tom meet again at the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital, drawn there by the appearance of a mysterious patient the doctors call Douglas Fairbanks (after the silent film actor)—a shell-shocked soldier with no memory of who he is. At the hospital, Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist with his own interest in the amnesiac.
Each is keeping a secret; each has been shaken by the horrors of war. Decades later, Tom, now a successful screenwriter, encounters Paul by chance in LA, still grappling with the questions raised by this gorgeous and incisive novel: How to begin again after unfathomable trauma? How to love after so much loss? And who, in the end, was Douglas Fairbanks?
From the bone-strewn fields of Verdun to the bombed-out cafés of Paris, from the riot-torn streets of Bologna to the riotous parties of 1950s Hollywood, The Verdun Affair is a riveting tale of romance, grief, and the far-reaching consequences of a single lie.
“Grief looms, shadowlike, over this beautifully calibrated novel, which recalls the work of Anthony Doerr and Michael Ondaatje.” —O Magazine
“Striking…a story of operatic complexity, narrated in many voices, rich in imagery… Dybek finds the perfect conclusion for a novel so much about the mutability of time.” —New York Times Book Review
“As evocative as it is unflinching in its verisimilitude, Dybek’s novel begins shortly after the First World War in an ossuary, a makeshift memorial of sorts where unidentified remains of soldiers are gathered. Into this metaphor-rich setting a young American wife arrives seeking answers, and a precarious romance ensues…capturing the fragmented textures of war’s afterlife, and the private desires that seem to glow with even greater intensity in memory, is Dybek’s true ambition.” —Vogue
“For a literary romance, try The Verdun Affair by Nick Dybek, a historical fiction that begins in 1950 in Los Angeles, where a Hollywood screenwriter runs into someone from his past. Their story stretches back to Europe in the years following the First World War, and the novel unravels a love triangle and its players’ secrets.” —LA Times
“Dybek has a knack for creating a cinematic, wistfully noirish atmosphere of romance, in a world where love now seems beside the point.” —Seattle Times
“Dybek has created a carefully constructed, deeply inquisitive, and broodingly romantic tale of mourning resonant with judicious echoes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and spiked with piquant insights into the loss, longing, and delusion rampant in the haunting aftermath of war.” —Booklist, starred review
“Gripping…a cleverly constructed page-turner…Dybek is a master at creating an atmosphere of war, of decadence amid the rubble, and at dipping in and out of history, teasing the reader with beguiling clues concerning the secrets each character harbors…a complex tale of memory, choice, and the sacrifices one sometimes makes by doing the right thing.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Beautifully written, romantic, and atmospheric, the novel has a lyrical pace that evokes an earlier style of writing and does not as much aim to keep readers turning the pages as it does to draw them into a different time, full of melancholy and unspoken emotions. With the understated style of Ernest Hemingway, this novel will appeal to lovers of classic wartime romances (A Farewell to Arms) as well as fans of literary historical fiction by authors such as Paula McLain.” —Library Journal, starred review
“An absorbing tale … in delicate, evocative prose, Dybek captures the grim devastation of scarred battlefields, bombed villages, and fetid soil and conveys with sensitivity his characters’ unabated desire to see in the shellshocked soldier an answer to their deepest desire.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Sometimes the true battle begins only after the fighting is over. In this case, it’s the struggle to regain feeling, memory, and love in a landscape where verdancy can flourish again over graves and trenches and bones, but not over the craters of a wounded spirit. In the end, only a story can do that, but it must be as rich and poignant and compelling as Nick Dybek’s immersive and atmospheric The Verdun Affair. The meaning in life often goes AWOL, and we look to our great writers—writers like Nick Dybek—to bring it back.” —Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son and Fortune Smiles
“The Verdun Affair is ravishingly beautiful, and as much about love as about war. Nick Dybek is a storyteller of great power. I found myself drawn in immediately, believing the place, the characters, everything in his magnificently woven story. If there’s any justice, this novel will be widely read and recognized. I absolutely adored it.” —Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
“The Verdun Affair is an intensely gripping story set in the immediate aftermath of war. From a still-smoldering battlefield, Nick Dybek conjures a sweeping saga of secrets, lies, mistaken identity, love and betrayal. This is the kind of book you can’t put down.” —Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus and Battleborn
“The Verdun Affair is a masterful, sweeping novel of love and war and the way we reconstruct ourselves and our stories after everything has come apart. Nick Dybek is a vivid storyteller, and this is a beautiful and exciting book.” —Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One is Here Except All of Us
“I am still haunted by the images of war so deftly conjured in the midst of an elegiac love story. Dybek writes with a commanding sense of story and language. This novel will not let you go.” —Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Summer Before The War
“Love, war, the mysteries of who we are — it’s all in The Verdun Affair. A masterful novel that will fizz your brain and enchant your heart.” —David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife
“A haunting, beautiful, and wholly absorbing book, that is at once a gripping story of war, a poignant coming of age, and a bittersweet romance. Dybek conjures the time period with elegance and visceral detail. I didn’t want it to end!” —Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles and Circe
ALSO BY NICK DYBEK
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man
ALSO BY NICK DYBEK
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man
Every fall, the men of Loyalty Island—like their fathers and grandfathers before them—still sail from the Olympic Peninsula up to the Bering Sea to spend the winter catching king crab. Their dangerous occupation keeps food on the table but constantly threatens to leave empty seats around it.
To Cal, Alaska remains as mythical and mysterious as Treasure Island, and the stories his father returns with are as mesmerizing as those he once invented about Captain Flint before he turned pirate. But while Cal is too young to accompany his father, he is old enough to know that everything depends on the fate of those few boats thousands of miles to the north. He is also old enough to feel the tension between his parents over whether he will follow in his father’s footsteps. And old enough to wonder about his mother’s relationship with John Gaunt, owner of the fleet.
Then Gaunt dies suddenly, leaving the business in the hands of his son, who seems intent on selling away the fishermen’s livelihood. Soon Cal stumbles on evidence that his father may have taken extreme measures to salvage their way of life. As winter comes on, his suspicions deepening and his moral compass shattered, he is forced to make a terrible choice.
“[A] powerful first novel … [that explores] loyalty and moral choice within a crumbling family.” —The Boston Globe
“Dybek can paint a salty landscape…but it’s the fast whirlpool of lies, murder, and moral dilemma that drives the book.” —Outside Magazine
“Finely crafted … a taut novel juggling the sometimes conflicting impulses to do the moral thing, and to protect those we love.” —Los Angeles Times
“A complex and riveting tale about deception and betrayal, asking us how far we would go to preserve what we hold dearest … In this magnificent debut Dybek’s incommunicable thrills shock us and disturb us and make him one to watch.” —Daily Beast
“Dybek brings serious talent to bear … Powerful.” —New York Times Book Review