In early June 1941, Martin
Bora, a captain in the German Abwehr (Intelligence), is sent
to Crete to pick up cases of wine for the German embassy in
Moscow, but as soon as he lands, he is ordered to investigate
the brutal shooting death of a Swiss national that may have
been committed by German paratroopers. This story is less
about a straight forward police procedural than describing
the atmosphere in Crete recently conquered by the Germans.
As Bora searches for the truth behind the shooting, we find
ourselves drawn into the multifaceted Cretan political landscape
of German conquerors, neutral expats, local Greek constabulary,
resistance fighters and fugitive Spanish rebels. As with the
previous novels, a complex, nuanced picture of occupied Crete
emerges as Bora travels to the interior of the island in search
of a key witness to the shooting. Along the lines of other
authors such as Phillip Kerr and Alan Furst, the tone is one
of ambiguity and individual conflicts.
What I enjoyed was Bora’s soul searching as he seeks
his witness. He is conflicted, caught between the two worlds
of his strict Prussian background (integrity) and his obligations
as an officer in the Wehrmacht (duty). Pastor draws explicit
parallels between Bora’s journey into the heart of Crete
and Odysseus’s Odyssey. The author alternates between
Bora’s personal entries into his diary (first person)
and the main narrative (third person), which adds to the personal
dilemmas faced by Bora. As I moved deeper into the narrative,
I forgot at times that this was a mystery.
The power of historical novels is the ability of the author
to recreate a reality populated by people struggling to deal
with political, personal and ethical challenges confronting
them when put into an accurate historical context. The world
of The Road to Ithaca is as “real” as
the political narratives by historians.
Ben Pastor is the author of several novels and is considered
one of the most talented writers in the field of historical
fiction. In 2008, she won the prestigious Premio Zaragoza
for best historical fiction.