World War I: Downton Abbey vs. the “other” war

For those of you following the PBS series Downton Abbey and the movie War Horse, you are seeing the conventional theaters of World War I. Downton Abbey depicts a British upper class family and their servants as the war affects them in the well known battlefields of Western Europe. War Horse is more about the horse than the war, but it too covers the war in Western Europe and explores familiar territory albeit with more sentimentality. As we approach the one hundredth anniversary of that tragic conflict in 2014, you can expect to see more conventional fictional treatments of the issues surrounding World War I.

My debut novel Beyond Ultra explores a far less known theater of war and far different themes with more unconventional characters. My protagonist Karl Hoffman is from the German aristocracy but wants a different future than that offered by the straight jacketed Prussian culture. He volunteers for duty in German Kamerun in Africa on the eve of the war in 1913. That way, he can get further away from German society. More importantly, he will be nearer his girlfriend Pilar in the adjacent neutral Spanish colony of Spanish Guinea, where she and her father Pedro Ortega are surveying their future cocoa plantation. The Hoffman and Ortega families were joined earlier by their common interest in wine making and Karl grew up side by side with Pilar during part of each year. Now he envisions a future with Pilar in Spain and exotic Africa, building their own empire away from the conflicts in Europe.

Beyond Ultra, although a novel, is thoroughly grounded around real historical events, unlike many novels that masquerade as historical fiction. The fictional Karl Hoffman distinguishes himself in battle in Kamerun as the German garrison is surrounded by Allied forces. He leads them into internment in neutral Spanish Guinea, as actually happened in 1916. Karl is sent to Spain to sit out the war, allowing him to marry Pilar, start a family, and realize his dream. During the 1920's, all starts out idyllic but fate has something else in store for Karl. He sends his two oldest sons to Germany for their education and their fate is a very different one from youngest son Paul Hoffman, who goes to America for his education. The Spanish Civil War and World War II ultimately shatter Karl's original dream and son Paul must rescue the family and its vision.

World War I was a crucial part of twentieth century history and to this day affects our politics and lives in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and even Asia. Will these connections be explored in the coming several years so that we might learn something about how current world events are connected to that distant conflict? That's unlikely since most media efforts will focus on drama and commercial aspects of film, books, and other media.

I will certainly continue to explore these themes. My sequel historical novel, Valhalla Revealed, will take up where Beyond Ultra left off. It will explore the period 1945-1975 and cover the end of the colonial era, the passing of the Franco regime in Spain, and the Cold War. The same characters, and some new ones, will reflect their times but eventually embrace some unconventional viewpoints. Along the way, they will illustrate issues such as globalism, fair trade, and other issues that affect America and the world, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst.

I hope to publish Valhalla Revealed late in 2012 or early 2013. Please check into this web site periodically for progress reports and more coverage of related themes.

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