Dybek doesn’t use [flashbacks] sparingly... as a result, The Verdun Affair overheats and explodes ... This is a story of operatic complexity, narrated in many voices, rich in imagery, but sometimes poor in discipline ... [the novel's] strained images are accompanied by a certain portentousness of tone.
[A] haunting, vividly cinematic tale ... Dybek’s poignant tale of the harsh realities of war juxtaposed with a dreamlike love story will linger with readers in the same manner as Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
I love historical novels because I want fiction to transport me—to tell me something I don’t know, to make me imagine the past. Dybek transported me with Verdun. His writing stunned me with the way it captures the feel of a time and place. I tell him this, and that it reminds me of another story: a novella by Mark Helprin, Ellis Island, that I read long ago but have never forgotten. I could not believe Helprin could have written this without experiencing it, the way I can’t believe Dybek wasn’t in Verdun after the Great War.
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.
While there are obvious comparisons to The English Patient, this book seems to be an extended metaphor showing how relationships, loves even, can be shattered beyond all recognition, just as a human body can be obliterated. [Dybek] effectively communicates the spirit of place and time. He also has a knack for sharing the feelings and intentions behind quite ordinary conversations. The strength of this book lies in the first chapters set in Verdun. The powerful images of post-war suffering eclipse the image of long-dead romances.
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 about the amnesiac. Dybek’s novel is a complex tale of memory, choice, and the sacrifices one sometimes makes by doing the right thing.
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 ... A familiar love triangle reimagined in an absorbing tale.
The Verdun Affair is one of those books that appear too seldom: eloquent, with characters who seem more real than fictional, a setting that haunts long after the book is finished, but best of all, a story that cuts the reader to the heart ... An outstanding novel that is riveting and unforgettable, gut-wrenching and evocative.