The Ventriloquists

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

I struggled, and at only 544 pages, this book is insufferably long. Tapping out at about 60%. You CANNOT reclaim the word "queer" and apply it to historical contexts when literally thousands of gay men were interned and murdered (and left to rot in concentration camps by the allies when all other prisoners were liberated because the gay men needed to serve the rest of their "sentences.") The story jumps back and forth in time, is impossible to follow, and provides no reason why I should care about any of the characters. It feels like there was no actual research done, only the application of post-modern theory to historical events.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest, voluntary review.
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Sometimes I receive free copies of a book from the publisher in two formats.  The publisher will have confidence in a book if it deals with World War II, the most popular historical era.  Yet if it's written by a debut author, they know it will need more promotion. So Park Row Books went the extra mile for the World War II  debut novel, The Ventriloquists  by Evan Roxanna Ramzipoor.   I got a digital ARC from Net Galley and a paperback ARC directly from the publisher by mail.  I wanted to review this book sooner, but I had so many earlier review commitments and suddenly it's almost the end of December. The Ventriloquists was released at the end of August.  I would like to thank the publisher for their generosity.
First, let me count the reasons that I loved The Ventriloquists.

1) The focus on World War II Resistance journalists

I always notice books with central characters who are journalists.   I have reviewed a number of books on this blog dealing with  journalists. I will hyperlink my review of the most recent one at  To Live Out Loud, a novel by Paulette Mahurin about Émile  Zola and his advocacy for Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military officer who was falsely accused of treason in 19th century France.  I'm more likely to consider these books--especially if they are journalists who take great risks with their work.   Anti-Nazi journalists in Nazi occupied Belgium were  definitely in this category.

2) Exceptionally heroic women characters

Although the protagonist is the real historical journalist, Marc Aubrion, my favorite character in The Ventriloquists is the fictional Lada Tarcovich who was a whorehouse madam and a smuggler, but also a great deal more than that. She was a lesbian, a bold activist who knew how to get things done for the Resistance and the character who uttered my favorite remark: "When a shiny black boot comes to town, it always steps on words and women first."

Andree Grandjean was mentioned in the author's archival source, but as a barrister.  Ramzipoor made her a judge who risked her career to use her wealth and influence to help the Resistance.  (Please note that a Wikipedia list of the first woman lawyers and judges of Europe states that the first woman judge in Belgium was appointed in 1948 after WWII. Readers can decide for themselves whether they regard Judge Grandjean as an intolerable historical inconsistency or a minor faux pas.)

Finally, there was the fictional Helene who we meet first in the current day framing narrative as an old woman, but in occupied Nazi Belgium she was twelve and engaged in some very daring escapades on behalf of the Resistance.

3) Satire as a Significant Act of Protest

Some acquaintances who don't know me very well think I don't have a sense of humor, but I love satire. My only issue is it can't be goring my ox.   Very few people appreciate jokes at their own expense or that target the groups and causes that they identify with, and I am not one of them.  I am a huge fan of Oscar Wilde who satired  aristocrats and the wealthy. Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw could also be a great satirist.  I read through his complete works as a teenager, so I know some of his more obscure plays with real bite.  Monty Python has my abiding affection as do the late night satiric comedy shows in the U.S. 

Marc Aubrion conceived of the idea of lampooning the Belgian newspaper Le Soir which had become Nazi propaganda.  His Resistance group planned to distribute Le Faux Soir through the same outlets where Le Soir was sold. They knew the Nazis would find out quickly, but it would give Belgians hope.  That is no small thing in dark times.  Le Faux Soir actually existed.  Some copies survived in private collections.

4. Great Dialogue

I have to admit that I won't read a novel if its main appeal is witty dialogue.  Such exchanges aren't a substitute for characterization.  I also want fiction to have a plot with events that interest me and some genuine thematic heft.

Having said that, snark is a wonderful ornament in the context of an unfolding drama.   Snarky heroes seem more courageous to me than the grim tight lipped ones.  They are also far more entertaining.  The suave poetic banter of  playwright Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac during his fight scenes is what makes him stand out.   I feel that the witty moments of Marc Aubrion and Lada Tarcovich are gifts to the reader.

My Summary Judgment

I've seen criticisms that the book is too long or that the narrative was too scattered.  One Goodreads reader was confused about who was narrating at some points.  I didn't have these problems.  I thought the length was necessary for character development, and that the identity of the narrator was clear to me from context. I am also accustomed to novels that alternate narratives taking place in different periods which have become quite common in historical fiction.

I found The Ventroloquists original because the role of journalists in the WWII Resistance was previously unknown to me.  I was glad to learn about Le Faux Soir, and appreciated how much courage it took to take the necessary risks.  I'm glad this book was written and I think that more readers should be aware of this aspect of WWII.
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The Front de l'Indépendance is determined to print the truth free from Nazi control in 1943 Belgium. After being threatened by Gruppenfuhrer August Wolff, journalist Marc Aubrion and colleagues agree to put out a pro-Nazi issue of Nazi propaganda La Soir. Instead, they intend to put out an anti-Nazi satire issue, a “Faux” Soir, effectively condemning them to death. Based on a true story, this novel is told from the perspective of the street urchin chosen as gopher and pet by Aubrion, who gives Helene, a girl pretending to be a boy for safety sake, missions for her fellow street urchins to support their endeavor. Helene’s perspective oversteps her boundaries of knowledge throughout the book, making Dear Reader wonder why the author chose her as the 1st person narrator. Ramzipoor does brilliantly include a Nazi government official in the Faux Soir caper, with the inevitable question of where his loyalty lay, and credible gay characters, one of whom outshines the main character. The twist at the end feels delayed—it seems as though that information would have been given right up front, making the timing awkward and the twist a bit anti-climactic. Despite its flaws (unrealistic dialogue, over the top characters) in the craft, Ramzipoor is a natural storyteller, and in choosing a unique tale from the oft-drawn-from well of the WWII era, she has presented an unforgettable story of unexpected heroes where the lesbians survive. I was fortunate to receive this fascinating debut novel from the publisher Park Row through NetGalley.
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Novelizations of historical events are always tricky. The author has to balance the desire to be true to the known facts with needs of the story being told. The framing design E. R. Ramzipoor uses in The Ventriloquists provides the background and introduces the narrators of the story. The view then shifts back to occupied Brussels in 1943 where the Resistance has been co-opted by the Nazis. But the Resistance has a very grim joke to play that would make Hitler a laughingstock even if it cost them their lives. And then they asked the Allies to bomb Brussels to get the Nazis when they were supposed to be on trial. Will the Resistance succeed or will they die for a joke? A nice telling of a little known story of World War II.
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This is exactly the sort of book I love to discuss, especially with young people.
We'd all like to believe we'd be heroes, given the opportunity, but perhaps instead we'd be the janitor who turned them in.
Much food for thought, and a well written story.
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The Ventriloquists is a story about Resistance Group in Belgium. Marc Aubrion, the Jester, is a mastermind behind fake newspaper affair. Lada Tarcovich, the Smuggler, Aubrion’s true friend; David Spiegelman, the Gastromancer; Theo Miller, the Saboteur; Martin Victor, the Professor; Gamin, the Pyromaniac help him to make the newspaper happen. There are many obstacles they have to go through, many dangers to avoid, and they all know what if the fake newspaper operation succeeds, they all will die. They are ready to give hope to Belgians and make fun of Hitler and the Reich, even if it costs them their lives. 

The plot is mind-blowing. There are not many books that show WWII from other European counties’ perspectives. Usually it is set in occupied France, or in concentration camps, may be in Germany, or Russia. I personally have never had a thought of what happened in Belgium during those dark years. The Ventriloquists is like a breath of fresh air with so many possibilities to learn. It made me do my own research and I am forever grateful for opening my eyes. 

However, I did not enjoy the book, as much I wanted to. The structure of the narrative is hard to follow. There is a storyteller, Gamin (Helene), an old lady now, who remembers what happened in November 1943 as clear as it was yesterday. She is sharing the story with a young girl, who is seeking answers to her questions. Helene tries to grasp everyone at the same time and the narrative jumps from one character to another. There is little background given to protagonists, and it scattered through 500 pages. It was hard to connect to anyone with only bits and pieces of their personality provided. I would love to read more about Aubrion’s pre-war time, what made him who he was (especially, known that Marc Aubrion was a real person who managed to do just as he planned and create a fake newspaper to mock Nazis in Belgium in 1943). 

Thank you Negalley and HARLEQUIN Publishing House for e-ARC The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor in return of my honest review.
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I had to restart this book, and what a difference the second start has been. I am over half way through, and find the story is compelling. First of all, it takes place in Belgium. Most WWII Stories are set in places other than Belgium. Secondly, this is character driven, and each member of the cast has a unique persona and voice which drives them.  Thirdly, the plan to create a satirical edition of the revered newspaper that the Nazi's had co-opted from the Belgians was dangerous and complex. More to follow. Update: Five stars for the plot, the dialogue, and as I mentioned before, the characters. I was thoroughly engrossed in the characters!
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I have read several WW11 era novels, and this is a very different story. Set in German occupied Belgium in the early  1940’s, a small group of revolutionaries led by the ebullient, larger than life Marc Aubrion. The story is recounted by Helene, who masqueraded as a boy named Gamin, during the German occupation. Left as an orphan after her parents are trampled in a riot, Helene lived on the streets, and takes up alliances with Marc Aubrion on the improbable quest to turn out a parody newspaper of Le Soir. The endeavor known as Faux Soir, is intended as a joke that directly mocks the Germans. There is a whole host of unique characters that bring the story and the the conspiracy to life. I did find the interaction between August Wolff and the linguistic ventriloquist, David Spiegelman as the most interesting perhaps. Spiegelman as a homosexual Jew, could not be more different from August Wolff. As a high ranking Nazi, Wolff is expected to act a certain way, but his inner monologue points to a character deeply conflicted about his role in the greater Nazi plot to takeover Europe. While any relationship between Wolff and Spiegelman is outlawed, Wolff feels responsible for protecting Spiegelman, while Spiegelman is stuck in an impossible position, as a Jew serving the Germans, or facing death. Spiegelman finds an odd alliance in the ranks with Marc Aubrion, and he lends his unique talent to assist them in their quest to turn out Faux Soir. This is a very interesting story and it should appeal to fans of historical fiction and WW11 era storylines. Author does a wonderful, seamless job of blending real world events and storylines with factionalized characters.
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The Ventriloquists is the story of Le Faux Soir, an anti-Nazi propaganda newspaper put out on one day in 1943 in Belgium. Le Soir was a really evening paper that the Nazi had taken over when they occupied Belgium. The story is that of the creation of the paper over 18 days. About half of the characters are real while the other half are fiction. 

This is a WWII story that I have never heard of before and found fascinating. The big stories now a days are the resistance stories mainly set in France but what made this true story interesting is that it is a group of writers who chose to fight in a different manner. In 1943 the US has already joined the war and at this time they are making progress across France. 

While this is a 500+ page novel I definitely recommend that you read it.
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"A ragtag gang of journalists and resistance fighters risk everything for an elaborate scheme to undermine the Reich."  Initially I found the cast of characters and story line confusing but after giving myself a little more time to sort it out, I found it difficult to put the book down.  Another untold story of courage and perseverance during WWII based in fact.  Fascinating.
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The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor is a historical fiction book inspired by true events of Belgian resistance fighters scheming to put out a satire newspaper under the Nazis’ noses. This is Ms. Ramzipoor’s debut novel.

A gang of journalists and resistance fighters in German-occupied Belgium are looking to turn the Le Soir, the country’s most popular newspaper from a Nazi propaganda rag, to their own satire rag. The gang is led by Marc Aubrion, a journalist a step away from being a con-man, who enjoys the bottom rungs of society.

To his aid Aubrion enlists a motley crew to help with the charade, including a Jewish gay man working as a forger for the Nazis, an industrialist, journalist, an army of kids, and a prostitute who dabbles in

The story is told through the eyes of Hellene, a 12 year old girl masquerading as a boy, who is being interviewed decades later.

I did not know what to expect from The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor, but what I found was a novel which was funny, entertaining, and extremely well written. Even though this novel takes place during one of the biggest events of last century, it is purely character driven with a cast that is both likable and somewhat terrifying.

The author nicknames here characters which helps the reader keeps track of them, each section is told through the eyes of a different character, sometimes continuing the narrative from the previous one. The story is told by “The Pyromaniac”, Helene, to Eliza who is aptly named “The Scrivener”. The man who runs it all, Marc Aubrion (who existed and ran this scheme) is nicknamed “The Jester” due to his demeanor, and Lada Tarcovich, a lesbian running a whorehouse, smuggling operations, and writing erotica is nicknamed “The Smuggler”. “The Saboteur”, Theo Mullier (another real personality) is one which even his colleagues don’t know what to make of, but one you don’t cross and surprises the bunch. Martin Victor “The Professor” rounds up this gang. The Gestapo officer who is in charge of the propaganda paper, among other atrocities, is August Wolff, nicknamed here “The Dybbuk”, a Jewish folklore name for being taken over by a malicious spirit. Working for Wolff is David Spiegelman, “The Gastromancer”, a Jewish gay man whose family was murdered and has the useful skill of being a skilled forger.

This fake newspaper (as if the ones the Nazis produced was “real”) was known as “Faux Soir”, produced by the Front de l’Indépendance, a faction in the Belgian Resistance. The gang worked up plans to mass up the distribution of the real newspaper and have people buy their parody before they even realized it. A small act of resistance, when “fake news” was art. Amazingly a few issues of Faux Soir survived to this day.

The cast of characters is well written and defined, the author keeps the book going using wit and conviction to tell a story which should not be lost to history.This book was right up my alley, with enough comedy, irony and sarcasm, mixed in with the sadness that is part of the time.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity. 

Going into this book I knew I was entering into a hard-hitting and not so easy story to read but I never thought it was going to be so complex and gripping. Is a really good story and take on World War II, with many intriguing plots, which made me feel a little lost at times but I think were necessary and part of the idea of the author with the story. For a debut novel, it was well executed, you can see that the author spent time researching about the Faux Soir, and I can see how the author can become one of the most known authors for historical fiction.
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I really liked this historical novel and it was hard to put down, despite its 500+page length. The young character Helene meets up with a group of people who run an underground newspaper in occupied Brussels during World War II. The paper has been turned into a propaganda publication for the Nazis and the main characters decide to take subversive action in resistance to the whole thing. Can't wait to read the next book from E.R. Ramzipoor.
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In 1943 Brussels, the Nazis have taken over. Helene is 12 years old. She's an orphan who survives by disguising herself as boy. She sells newspapers. Her life changes when she is drawn into a secret underground network that publishes dissident anti-nazi news. When a high-ranking Nazi officer discovers the group, he demands that they print pro-Nazi propaganda or face death. The group decides to pretend to comply, while actually publishing satire against the Nazi occupation. 

While I enjoyed the characters, the history and the premise of people willing to risk their lives to fool the Nazis and resist occupation....this book was a difficult read for me. I just couldn't seem to connect with the story. I'm not sure what caused the disconnect though. The book is well written. The characters are complex. The plot is good. I just....didn't really like this book. I think it's just a case of not every story is for every reader. I enjoy WWII history, both non-fiction and historical fiction. I just didn't get sucked into this story. I read every word.....but it just wasn't a story for me. 

I would definitely read more by this author. And I might pick this book up again in the future and see if I like it better after a second read. 

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
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My feedback here is late to the party.  I enjoyed this book, but it was relatively forgettable.  I'd recommend it to others as a quick read.
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I received a free ARC of this book thru NetGalley for an honest review. 

I really felt this was going to be a great book due to its premise and I really wanted to like this book for the real people who pulled off this brave act but I was sadly disappointed. Unfortunately, the book is poorly written, boring, and character development was mundane and extremely inconsistent. For example, one of the strongest characters in the book becomes all of a sudden distraught when her homosexuality is the subject of conversation despite being impassive to all other things. The homosexuality theme in the book was also incredibly forced and takes away from the plot in order to further victimize the characters. As if being a Jew during the holocaust wasn’t bad enough!?! Clearly the writer is trying to put herself/her struggles into the book and sadly it takes away from the premise and flow of the plot. This book could’ve been much shorter but it wasn’t. The characters of this book could have been better represented and developed but they weren’t. The book could’ve been good but it just wasn’t.
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The Nazis have occupied Belgium. They threaten the workers of the newspaper Le Soir. The Nazis will kill all of the workers if they do not put out their propaganda. Well, of course the workers put out the Nazi paper but they also print another edition. This edition makes fun of the Germans and tells the true story. It is amazing the lengths the Nazi’s went to put out their propaganda. This tale incorporates just one little section of this part of the war. The remarkable workers of this paper were having none of it.

This is a very good story. I just felt it was too long and needed to be cut by about 100 pages. It dragged in spots and then there were spots I could not put it down. There are a good many characters and sometimes it is hard to keep up with who they all are. But it is a very informative and unique tale. It had me researching. That is always a plus in my book!
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"Still waters are deep" is a saying that I grew up with and it is the perfect analogy for this novel in my mind. In many ways, a reader knows what to expect when picking up a historical fiction novel set during WWII, but this story is unique and differs from most. Its eloquent prose delivers a quiet punch, that's provocative and thoughtful. 

The setting in The Ventriloquists is in Belgium in 1943 and tells the story of a brave resistance group set to hold out and conspire against the Germans via a satire paper to be printed and distributed secretly as the 'Faux Le Soir' of the actual 'Le Soir', a Belgian paper at the time. Of course, as with any other media taken over by the Germans, Le Soir is used as a propaganda machine and the Front de l'Independance (FI) plans to create a little propaganda of their own. 

"But I could not let them know how dangerous, how different, this operation was. We weren't stealing bread or tankers of gin this time. We were stealing things the Nazi's cared about....." 

Gruppenfuehrer August Wolff, stationed in Belgium is of the eccentric kind with a high ego. He has his eyes on the FI and tries to infiltrate the efforts of the paper by capturing and placing journalist Marc Aubrion into the production to manipulate and publish propaganda depicting Allies as monsters. 

"Once the German machine put an order in motion, it became an act of God. Only a devil or a miracle could stop it, and the Germans had seen to it that they were the only devils in Europe, the only miracle workers." 

Marc Aubrion is trapped and tied between two worlds. He has to keep up a facade and do as he is told by Wolff, and at the same time, risks his life by secretly plotting the paper's content against the Germans. 

"When a shiny black boot comes to town, it always steps on words and women first." 

With a cast full of characters from different walks of life, prostitutes, journalists, and "Lebenskuenstler", Ramzipoor has created a unique story to be told touching beyond the broadness of the things we know about the ratifications of the German ideals. The Ventriloquist is a story full of persona, beauty, and flaws. It tells about the love between same-sex characters, the endurance, strength and will to be while intrigue and backstabbery happens among the ranks. 

This dynamic keeps the novel interesting albeit at some points I had a hard time keeping track of who is using whom to sabotage. The exchange of plot points and chapters changes swiftly and is told in a down count of days till the publication of the Faux Soir. A culminating end of the book is not to be missed as this novel is based on true events. 

A debut novel of a different kind that is a promising start to more captivating books to follow by Ramzipoor. I would hope so anyway because I really liked the voice, scope, and vision of this author. 

*Quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof of the novel and are subject to change*

I received a digital copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publisher. All opinions are my own. 

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Synopsis: It’s 1943 and the Nazis have occupied most of Europe, taking both their lives and livelihoods — yet a small resistance group in Belgium is determined to go out with a bang. Their plan: to create a newspaper that looks like a piece of Nazi propaganda but actually supports the Allies and brings a sense of humor back to the citizens of Belgium. The only question is, can they pull it off underneath the Nazis’ noses?  

Alright y’all, I have finally given up on this one. It sounded super interesting & I was excited to give it a try! But I’m about 70% of the way done and I’ve been struggling through it for weeks and I promised myself that if I couldn’t finish it last night before I got tired, I would DNF it. So, here we are. I think having to balance a work-life schedule has made me more aware of how precious my reading time is, and I don’t want it bogged down by books I don’t like.

Let me know if you’ve read this one & if I should consider finishing it! It reminded me the tiniest bit of The Book Thief but it dragged on so much in the middle and I didn’t connect with the characters at all. 

Thank you to @netgalley and @harlequinbooks for letting me read an e-ARC of this one!
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The premise of this book is fascinating.  A black propaganda exercise of the Nazis turned to the benefit of the Allies.  The book starts out interesting, and I waited (and waited) to get invested in the characters. Ultimately, the characters turned too cartoonish and the plot too fantastic (real or not, we missed the motivations) to finish.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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