I’ve been waiting for Michael Morpurgo’s next work since I finished “War Horse.” His latest, “An Eagle in the Snow,” doesn’t disappoint.
In a dark mountain tunnel outside London (1940), a train waits out an attack from a German Messerschmidt 109. One car is occupied by a young boy, Barney, his Ma, and a mysterious “stranger” with matches. The boy and his Ma are fleeing the night’s bombing of Coventry which destroyed their home and killed Barney’s father.
To keep the frightened young boy’s mind off the suffocating darkness, the stranger unravels a tale about a fellow orphan, Billy Byron, and his experiences during the first world war. They include Byron’s merciful choice to allow a German corporal with a mustache to walk away from the end of the Battle of Marcoing as the war concludes. Byron is horrified when the corporal resurfaces years later as Der Fuhrer.
Part history, part biography, part suspense and equal “What Ifs?,” “Eagle” is all heart. The tale is mostly told in flashback, weaving in and out of the mountain tunnel as night plods on and the whine of German aircraft fades into the distance.
Morpurgo packs a lot into 133 pages, including an Epilogue and an intriguing Afterword. The latter chronicles the real life of Henry Tandey, one of the most decorated – and perhaps least-known – soldiers of WWI. Tandey’s life experiences are the genesis for this superlative historical fiction.
“Eagle” can be read in a couple of hours. The “What ifs?,” however, are bound to reverberate much longer.
An outstanding read.