Friday, March 10, 2017

Review of The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax (Soho Press, 2012)

1938. Ernst Vogler is employed on the Sonderprojekte, collecting great art from around Europe for display in the Third Reich.  After the incarceration in Dachau of his mentor, a well-known art historian, Vogler is sent to Rome to accompany the famous classical Roman marble statue, The Discus Thrower, to the border where it will be handed over to the Gestapo.  The statue is the personal target of the Fuhrer and there is widespread unhappiness that it has been sold and is leaving Italy.  Vogler’s task should be a simple, three-day excursion, but things start to go wrong as soon as he arrives in the Italian capital.  When he does set out to the border he is accompanied by twin brothers.  Almost immediately, the trio leave the agreed route, giving their police escort the slip.  Despite Vogler’s protestations, the brothers seem intent on setting their own schedule, which includes visiting a girlfriend.  At first, Vogler tries to resist the detour, realising that it is putting them all at risk, but soon he is so far implicated that he gives himself up to the adventure hoping that as long as he ultimately delivers the statue in one piece that he’ll survive the inevitable fallout. 

The Detour recounts the tale of Ernst Vogler, a budding art historian who worked on the Third Reich’s Sonderprojekte, collecting great art for the Fuhrer before the Second World War.  It is told as recollection as Vogler arrives back in Italy in 1948 to track down the woman he fell in love with on his last visit, a decade previously.  On that trip, Vogler was sent to Rome to accompany the famous statue, The Discus Thrower, back to Germany.  He is accompanied on his journey to the border by twin brothers, Enzo and Cosimo, who are police officers and speak rudimentary German.  Fearing that the statue is at risk, the brothers lose their escort and take a detour, with Enzo becoming obsessed with seeing his girlfriend.  As the journey progresses a series of mishaps and tragedies befall the trio.  Rather than telling the tale as a straightforward adventure, Romano-Lax nicely blends in a smattering of politics, art and philosophy, as well as thread of romance.  The historical context and Vogler’s backstory is well constructed and there’s a strong sense of place as the trio head north through the back-roads of central Italy.  The result is a bittersweet tale of a sensitive and insecure young man coming of age in difficult circumstances and returning years later to see if he can find lost love.

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