Michael Dobbs,
Churchill's Triumph
(2005; Sourcebooks, 2008)

World War II was a pivotal time in history, and its outcome has shaped our lives in many ways. From this war the United Nations had its beginning. The stage was set for the Cold War, which dominated the second half of the 20th century. At the end of this war, borders were changed, empires were expanded or destroyed and millions of people were displaced or killed.

Three men who had a dominant hand in shaping these events met in February 1945 in Yalta at the Black Sea Resort. For eight days, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian Dictator Joseph Stalin discussed, bargained and harangued over the fate of the world.

Author Michael Dobbs presents a fictitious accounting of this event in his novel Churchill's Triumph. Instead of simply reading the documents they signed and getting an outsider's view of what happened after the fact, Dobb provides a look at what happened through the eyes of the participants on each of those eight days. Stalin is shown as an insatiable beast who wrangles out of the Allies every concession he can -- knowing he'll take what he is not freely given. Roosevelt is seen on the decline; his main concern is the creation of the U.N. and he'll concede practically anything for the realization of this dream. The main character Dobbs focuses on, however, is Winston Churchill, who tries to fight for the rights of people of other countries -- but when you are the weakest member of the three and your only weapon is words, how far can you get?

When the novel opens, it is 1963. Churchill is a very old man not in the best of health. In a manner of speaking, he is confronted by a ghost from his past. Leaving the Crimea from time to time, Dobbs introduces a subplot involving the fictional Polish town of Piorun and the leading members of the town, the Nowak family. The ghost visiting Churchill is a Polish citizen who borrowed the name Nowak to escape authorities by pretending to be another person. He masquerades as a plumber at Yalta and gets Churchill's word to help him escape. Throughout the novel, the reader will also learn the fate of the real Nowaks and their town when first the Germans desecrate the citizens, then the Russians demolish the town.

Dobbs, who served as a chief adviser to two British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, has written many historical novels. Churchill's Triumph is the fourth based on Churchill. He has worked for the BBC and has been a correspondent for the Boston Globe. One of his novels -- House of Cards -- was made into a TV series in the U.K.

I quite enjoyed reading Churchill's Triumph. I think Dobbs did a believable job mixing facts with fiction. There were numerous times I had to remind myself I was reading a novel, that this was not all historical fact. Based on what I have read in history books or seen in documentaries, I feel Dobbs' portrayal of these three world leaders was fairly accurate. He seems to have captured their personal nuances. I was also drawn into the story of how the Germans and Russians treated the Polish.

Just remember that, despite how realistic it reads at times, much of this book is fiction.

review by
Wil Owen

5 July 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new