#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · historical fiction · World War II

New Release Book Review: The Collaborator by Diane Armstrong

Title: The Collaborator

Author: Diane Armstrong

Published: August 19th 2020

Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU

Pages: 496

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

Is he a hero or a traitor? Based on astonishing true events set in the darkest days of World War II in Budapest, this is an enthralling story of heroism, vengeance, passion, and betrayal. It is also the story of three women linked by a secret that threatens to destroy their lives. For readers of The Tattooist of AuschwitzAll That I Am and Schindler’s Ark (List).

An act of heroism, the taint of collaboration, a doomed love affair, and an Australian woman who travels across the world to discover the truth…

It is 1944 in Budapest and the Germans have invaded. Jewish journalist Miklos Nagy risks his life and confronts the dreaded Adolf Eichmann in an attempt to save thousands of Hungarian Jews from the death camps. But no one could have foreseen the consequences…

It is 2005 in Sydney, and Annika Barnett sets out on a journey that takes her to Budapest and Tel Aviv to discover the truth about the mysterious man who rescued her grandmother in 1944.

By the time her odyssey is over, history has been turned on its head, past and present collide, and the secret that has poisoned the lives of three generations is finally revealed in a shocking climax that holds the key to their redemption.

Review:

‘How do you balance the merit of rescuing fifteen hundred Jews against the crime of writing an affidavit to exonerate a Nazi? Can a man be a hero as well as a collaborator?’

The author of The Collaborator, Diane Armstrong, arrived in Australian in 1948 and is the child of Holocaust survivors. Drawing on her family’s experiences in the Second World War, Diane Armstrong’s memoirs and previous fiction title have helped to form the building blocks of The Collaborator, a remarkable slice of war time fiction.

Crossing the years 1944 and 2004 respectively, The Collaborator unravels key events that occurred in the capital of Hungry at the height of the Nazi invasion of this European locale. At the centre of this time is a man named Miklos Nagy, who decided to take matters into his own hands, risking his own safety to protect thousands of Jews from Hungary from the evil clutches of Adolf Eichmann. However, in this act of pure selflessness, Miklos was dubbed a Nazi collaborator, rather than a respected hero. Decades later in the year 2005, Miklos’ story comes to the attention of an Australian journalist named Annika Barnett. Uncovering a devastating secret surrounding her grandmother’s past, Annika resolves to uncover the truth to the events saw Miklos Nagy save her grandmother’s life. This quest for the truth sends Annika on a journey to Hungry and Israel, as startling revelations are uncovered, with long lasting implications. The Collaborator highlights the acts of fortitude, retribution and treachery that followed those impacted by the Second World War.

It is rather regrettable that I have had The Collaborator lingering on my shelves for so long. Despite the fact that Diane Armstrong’s book has been highly recommended to me many times over, I haven’t found the time until now to give this one the attention it so rightly deserves. Anyone who is a keen-eyed reader of the Second World War, the Holocaust, or history in general will find much to reflect on thanks to the penmanship of Diane Armstrong. I know this one affected me much more deeply than I expected. The Collaborator was a devastating read from start to finish.

Taking the form of two timelines, spaced decades part, The Collaborator simultaneously works to unfurl the secret life of a man who blurred the lines between collaborator and hero during the Second World War.  I appreciated the way in which Armstrong was able to link Miklos Nagy’s shocking turn of events with the up-to-date investigations of an Australian journalist. Moving, overwhelming, surprising and heart wrenching, The Collaborator is a tale that shocks the reader. Supported by an immense amount of factual detail and dedicated research on behalf the author, I came away feeling more knowledgeable about this cavity of the war. With the added focus on the moral questions surrounding the central figure of this novel ensures that the audience takes a considered look at this difficult series of events in the war.

By alternating the timelines and viewpoints, Armstrong has succeeded in producing a novel of great interest and historical brevity. I know I felt equally invested in both timelines and I came to see the present day investigations as crucial element in the overall direction of The Collaborator. A side focus on Annika’s personal life offsets the often-heavy feeling that came with some of the 1944 sequences. I genuinely rooted for Annika and I admired her resolve to expose the true story of Mikolas Nagy’s moving, but questionable acts during the war. Full of conflict, turmoil and divisions, The Collaborator leaves much for the reader to digest.

The Collaborator by Diane Armstrong was published on 19th August 2019 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Collaborator, Diane Armstrong, visit here.

The Collaborator is book #8 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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