Uncertain Soldier Reviews
“German sailor Erich is not a Nazi, despite being part of the Third Reich’s military. Max, a Canadian boy from a German family, does not support Hitler, but peers in rural Alberta subject him to vicious torment anyway. When Erich is taken prisoner, he crosses paths with Max at a logging camp where several of the POWs are sent as labor. The two find support in each other as they face a world that views them as trespassers. Not only does Erich suffer as an enemy alien, his fellow German prisoners suspect him of being an Allied sympathizer, because he speaks English. Can he prove his worth in a risky effort to uncover who has been sabotaging the Germans with dangerous logging accidents? Can both boys ever find peace and acceptance in a world where war-driven fear and resentment overshadow people’s humanity?…readers will likely find the two main characters’ journeys to safety and justice in a cruel world compelling.”
Quill & Quire
“How does it feel to be surrounded by people who see you as the enemy? How do you protect yourself when you aren’t sure whom to trust? The protagonists of Uncertain Soldier, Karen Bass’s wonderful new novel for young adults, are grappling with these questions.
Erich, a 17-year-old German sailor in Hitler’s navy, finds himself in Canada after his ship sinks and he is captured. Max is the 12-year-old son of German immigrants living in the fictional town of Horley, Alberta. Their stories converge in 1943, when Erich, now a prisoner of war, is working in a logging camp near Horley.
Both boys share a deep feeling of isolation. Erich does not share his fellow POWs’ Nazi beliefs, but is nonetheless hated by any Canadian with whom he comes into contact. Max was born in Canada but his stern father’s loyalty to Germany causes suspicion when war breaks out, and Max becomes a target for the townspeople.
Erich and max are well-developed characters, as is almost everyone surrounding them. Cora, a young Canadian girl whose relatives were killed in the Blitz, is torn between her hatred of the Germans and her attraction to Erich. The presence of Christmas, a young indigenous man, forces Erich and Max to realize that, despite their frustration with the blind prejudice of others, they harbor their own racial biases.
Bass does a fantastic job building and releasing tension throughout the novel. That war and violence were omnipresent in everyone’s lives during the period is made plain, despite the deceptively peaceful setting of a town far from the front lines. In the end, Erich and Max are pushed to their breaking points and have to decide how to respond. Will they refuse to engage or will they stand up and do what’s right, despite the risks? Their feelings of helplessness and struggles with conflicted loyalties should be easy for any young reader to identify with.”
“Erich Hofmeyer is an uncertain soldier. He enlisted in the German navy only because his father left him no choice, and now his ship has been sunk, and he is in in a POW camp in northern Alberta. His British grandparents have given him a broader world view than his fellow German soldiers, and he becomes a target of vicious bullying when he expresses what is perceived as disloyalty to the Reich. When the opportunity arises to leave the camp to work in the bush logging, he and his friend jump at the chance. But the logging camp has its complications: half the workers are Canadians who hate the German prisoners because of the deaths or imprisonment of relatives fighting overseas. At a nearby farm, Max Schmidt is also uncertain. His father wants him to be proud of his German heritage, but he is bullied daily at school by the other boys, who take out their anger on this little ‘Hitler’. Max’s family is under suspicion, as all German nationals were, so there is no one to whom Max can take his concerns. On a visit to the logging camp, he is befriended by Erich, who senses their shared experiences. The German prisoners at the camp are increasingly endangered by mysterious accidents, and in their fear they turn on Erich as the only one who speaks English fluently. The attacks on Max become more vicious, until he barely escapes being hanged. Max takes off into the bush, and only the skill of the native tracker Christmas and Erich’s help save him from drowning. Both Max and Erich have learned to stand up to an enemy and stand up for a friend. Bass has shone a light on a lesser known part of Canadian history. German nationals living in Canada were discomfiting for many communities, at a time when husbands and sons were fighting and dying in Europe. This novel shows solid research into the conditions of the 38,000 German POW’s in Canada, and life in rural Alberta in the 1940s…the visceral details and important themes make the journey compelling.”
Canadian Children’s Book News
“Uncertain Soldier, by the award-winning author of Graffiti Knight, is a taut, adrenaline-fuelled novel of enmity and loyalty set in rural Alberta in the years 1943 and 1944. The conflicts and prejudices of World War II play out with violent consequences in Canada as well as overseas….Bass writes with a visceral power. As she skillfully ratchets up the tension, both Erich and Max find the courage to stand up for their friends, and themselves, and to break the circles of bullying and prejudice that have held them (and their tormenters) prisoner. Wrestling with complex issues of friendship, loyalty, politics and violence, Uncertain Soldier would be an excellent choice for a teen boys’ book club.”
“Bass does an excellent job of uncovering the layers of many complex emotions: – prejudice toward German prisoners expressed by Canadians at home who had relatives fighting in Europe; – the bullying and hatred experienced by many families and school children who had been born in Canada but were of German heritage; – the emotions of young German soldiers who may have been conscripted to serve their country, but were not necessarily supportive of the Nazi regime….
Mature junior high readers, and senior high students will identify with Bass’s strong male characters whose loyalties are tested and with the complex friendships that develop as the plot unfolds.”
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“…Many of the fictional Max’s experiences really happened to Hartmann Nagel, a friend of Bass’s father whom she consulted in researching Uncertain Soldier. Nagel also provided information about logging camp life in that era. Christmas, who plays a pivotal role in finding Max, is based on a Cree man who worked part-time on Bass’s grandfather’s farm.
On the whole, Uncertain Soldier is an excellent novel, fascinating for its detail about Canadian rural life in the 1940s, rich in male characters with whom boys can identify, and important in theme—that one should not be too quick to judge others. Highly Recommended.”
CanLit for LittleCanadians
“A book like Uncertain Soldier does not go down easily. It burns in your throat with the rising bile of injustice and cowardice and the horrors of prejudice inflicted in war and out. It churns in your gut and then sits like a heavy meal of reality and history. Sometimes getting beyond that all is tough. Karen Bass again, as she did in Graffiti Knight, examines an ill-fated part of our history (her author’s note is an especially enlightening and valuable read) and textures it with humanity that makes it a touching story of distressing times. Uncertain Soldier will blow the historical fiction award juries away with its power.”
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There Will Be Books
“…Less traumatic than the American Summer of My German Soldier, Uncertain Soldier tells the story of Erich Hofmeyer, a German prisoner of war held in Alberta in the winter of 1943-44….
Uncertain Soldier is a solid, intelligent interpretation of the politics of the time and the effect of opinion on morale. Through the richness of its characters, the novel gives voice to a gamut of attitudes, revealing the complexity of life during the 1940s far more thoroughly and effectively than what is taught in history classes. In contrast to the Canadian Sam’s violent insistence that ‘a few firing squads last war would’ve fixed it,’ Erich’s British grandfather astutely notes that ‘more mercy by the Great War’s victors might have prevented the fight that loomed’ (103). The parallel with history is made more powerful by its subtlety; most readers will not hear Sam’s vehemence as an echo of French military politician Ferdinand Foch, who noted at the time that the Treaty of Versailles was ‘not peace [but] an Armistice for twenty years,’ asking for harsher restrictions to be place on the defeated Germany. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Erich’s grandfather’s position is reminiscent of John Maynard Keynes’s insistence that the conditions were too harsh, that the Treaty was a ‘Carthaginian peace,’ a peace ensured by the complete annihilation of the vanquished, such as Rome’s conquering of Carthage. Historians still debate the political ‘what ifs’ of the first half of the twentieth century, and this uncertainty, manifested at all levels of society, is brilliantly woven into the fabric of Bass’s text.”
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