Cover Image: Traitor


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Member Reviews

Fiction, especially YA fiction, based around aspects of the two World Wars always finds a way to tell a story relatable to the reader. Even as a history major, I found myself unaware tensions were so high between Poles and Ukrainians after the Germans and Russians decimated the Eastern Front. While the characters in this book are fictional, the anger and prejudices encompassing the book from the start are truly genuine. I highly encourage history readers to pick this one up. It’s one of the more necessary and recently published reads on World War II, right next to The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
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Traitor: A Novel of World War II By Amanda McCrina

Rating: 3 / 5 Stars

Publication Date: 8/25/2020

** Thank you to Netgalley, Macmillan, and of course, Amanda McCrina, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I am always a huge advocate for YA depictions of World War II. When it comes to general historical fiction, the period is overdone, but for children, I always believe learning from fiction is the best way. History can often be a bore for younger readers! 

The youth audience though provides a challenge on the other hand. McCrina uses a ton of words from Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, and German words/names which can confuse the reader. It could also deter them from not finishing. I am an advocate for accuracy - but this is a frustrating reality when it comes to young readers. 

The setting is incredibly important. The conclusion of World War II is often forgotten in exchange for the heavier years of battle. To call this a novel of the war does confuse me. Yes, we see the final year of it - but the plot focuses on the liberation by the Soviets and what unfolds afterward. So, technically I think it would fare better if it was just titled a historical novel? I guess I am nitpicking! 

Our main character is Tolya Korolenko - Ukrainian and Polish who is trying to survive the new conditions of Lwów, Poland under Soviet control. This leads him to join the Red Army - where he accidentally shoots and kills his political officer in the street. He is rescued by Ukrainian freedom fighters, but that doesn’t mean he trusts them. What follows is two on the run in order to save their own lives. A traitor can be an enemy or a savior - or can they be both? 

Traitor is depicted as a historical thriller, and I do think it lives up to that. I must congratulate McCrina for her work on this novel. Despite my few reservations, I think this book is a great read for younger readers.
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“Whose side are you on anyway? own, same as you.”
It’s hard to know who to trust when you’re simply trying to survive. 
At first, the story’s a bit confusing, my own ignorance of the area and history is to blame, and 4 sided, between Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and German interests and also their long-held prejudices and beliefs to take into account. Most of the plot is narrowed down between Polish and Ukrainian, the characters and their stories spill into all of the nationalities and values, and it’s a bit hard to keep things straight, so you’d better pay attention! Definitely refer to the List of Military and Paramilitary Forces that McCrina provides (I do wish I’d seen this before I finished the book!) With that being said, what a story! A story of survival, resistance, collaboration, betrayal, torture, hope, and love of family and country.
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While I enjoyed this book, I was confusing! With the overlapping characters and storylines - but being set in two different times - it was a bit confusing to follow. With that, I was definitely invested in the outcomes of the two characters; I was eager to see if they survived or how they ended up. However, all the secondary characters meant little to me - which is sad, since they are where the real overlap happened. I think the confusion was also made worse just by so many different sides, which is obviously not the author's fault, but is just how history worked; so, it was incredibly difficult to remember who was who, who didn't like who and why, and who the characters were currently running away from or trying to avoid. 

Overall, it was a quick read and I did enjoy most of the novel, but it was just a confusing bit of history to set a book in which impacted my reading experience.
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Two soldiers bring to life a little known aspect of WWII of four warring armies and factions--the Red Army, Germans (Wehrmacht, SS. Gestapo), Polish Resistance, Ukrainian Freedom Fighters--all operating in and around Lwow, Poland. Being character driven with themes of prejudice and survival, I was seriously reminded of Kafka's The Castle--just when you think you know where someone's allegiance lies, you find you are wrong. A complex and rewarding read which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.
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When you think of World War II historical fiction for young people, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan all immediately come to mind as likely settings. Amanda McCrina fills a gap with "Traitor," shining a light on the lesser known story of what war was like for the citizens and soldiers in Poland. Told in alternating viewpoints of two soldiers young soldiers--Tolya Korolenko a sniper in the Soviet Army, and Aleksey Solovey, a leader in the Ukrainian Nationalist--"Traitor" is equal parts thriller, adventure, and mystery. On a fateful night, Tolya shoots his commanding officer and is then rescued from execution by his own army by a group of Ukrainian Nationalists led by Aleksey. Changing alliances, undercover spies, and mistaken loyalties force Tolya and Aleksey on the run, and bring a relentless sequence of heart-pounding action. McCrina jumps back and forth in time, revealing how the two soldiers' lives are more intertwined than either of them realize. The fact that this part of World War II history is lesser known puts readers in an emotional state very similar to Tolya's--never knowing who to trust, who is on your side, and what you are even fighting for. McCrina doesn't sugarcoat the violence and brutality of war, and drives home the fact that war strips everyone's innocence away. This may be a difficult read for many readers and the ending is not a hopeful one; however, Tolya and Aleksey will leave a lasting impression.
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TRAITOR is a war thriller that takes place in L’viv (or Lwów in Polish), Ukraine, a city at the center of a little-known but brutal conflict during the war. The story features 2 narrators, 2 timelines, but there are a a lot more than 2 sides to the story. It is hard to know who to trust or what to believe, but I was completely drawn to both Tolya and Aleksey’s narratives and extremely invested in this tale. This time period and story are convoluted and so unsettling but also addicting and fascinating. I couldn’t put this story down from beginning to end, and wanted more when it was over. Don’t miss the character list in the back of the book too!

I gave this book 4 stars because I wanted MORE when it was over, and despite all the intrigue and excitement, I'm still not sure where this book was headed when we got to the end. I know that speaks to the confusion and heartbreak of war and this particular location, but I felt like there should have been something else at the end, especially when I cared about these characters so much.
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I received this as an ARC and enjoyed the book. I did find it hard to follow at times as it jumps back and forth between time periods. 
The characters and events seems authentic. Ive read several books based around the war and this is one I would recommend.
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I received this book from NetGalley for an honest review of the book.

I typically love historic fiction AND YA titles, so this book was a no brainer for me to read, especially considering the pre-release hype. I was not disappointed with this one, though it was not one of the "easier to read/follow" historic fiction titles I have read. Here's the break down:

On the upside - GREAT research and well written events. The author introduced an aspect of the war that hasn't been already covered into oblivion. Bonus points for creativity there. Additionally, the characters were multi-faceted, and I genuinely found myself pulling for the "good" side while despising the aggressors. The author's writing style is such that I would grab another book by the author with no reservation at all. Strong character development (for the most part), and great, new voice/POV for characters.

On the downside - The story line includes S-O M-A-N-Y characters!! Told from multiple points of view, it was, at times, a challenge to remember who was who and who was on what side. Add into the mix the fact that betrayal was rampant (hence, the title). So it was harder to follow at times the plot twists and turns. That could be a sign of great writing, and it can also just be a warning for people who have a hard time keeping unraveling threads from tangling. It's very possible that having a physical copy of the book to flip from one chapter to another chapter (easily) vs. the ebook version I read would have made navigating the plot a bit easier. In the ebook ARC, there was a character list at the end of the book. It may have been helpful to have had it at the beginning?

Bottom line - Fans of historic fiction will likely enjoy this book. Fans of almost-there suspenseful story lines will probably like it as well. I was tempted to quit just because I felt I was getting bogged down in the characters (so many characters), but I felt compelled to finish because I received this as an ARC. I do wonder, though, if I read the physical book or an audiobook version, would I have followed the plot better? For me, one reading was enough.
Personal star review: 1/5 (Difficult to keep up with characters - not necessarily a reflection on the writing/writer; may have just been the format I read; not reading it again to find out. "Personal star" takes into account that I am a grown up reading a YA title. I am not the intended audience, and perhaps that figures into my experience with the title/plot/characters.) 
Public star review: 3.5/5 (I kept reading, though I really kind of wanted to quit. Well researched, unique WW2 perspective, multi-layered plot; well-developed YA voice.)
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Examines the atrocities of war and ethnic cleansing through the eyes of young men and women entwined in fighting for their lives - lies, deceit, self-preservation.  A tough, raw read.
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Originally reviewed on Forever Young Adult:

BOOK REPORT for Traitor: A Novel of World War II by Amanda McCrina

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You, Love
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: The History Channel, But Awesome
Bonus Factors: Psychology, WWII
Anti-Bonus Factor: Tribalism
Relationship Status: I’ll Be Seeing You

We are very excited to be a part of the Traitor blog tour celebrating its release! Check out the book trailer while you go ahead and order your copy. We’ll wait. 

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

Did I accidentally pick up a “literary fiction” book? How classy! I love this cover, even more so now after reading the story and understanding why the building is so prominent: the city itself is just as much a character as our protagonists.

The Deal:

Lwów/L’viv has always been a city divided. Years before Soviet and German soldiers ravaged its people and streets, the city was constantly traded back and forth between Poland and Ukraine, and you can imagine the tension that was incited amongst the citizens of both nations. By July 1944, the occupying Germans were leaving in droves as Soviet soldiers marched in, “liberating” the city once more.

And what of those permanent residents? In general, the Ukrainians, banking on the Germans’ promise for a future free Ukraine, had been supporting the Germans’ regime and using the arm of their underground radicals, the UPA, to further their own agenda—which involved a lot of murdering Polish people because they were Polish. The Polish Resistance was created, in a part, as retaliation against the UPA’s slaughter, and they weren’t above taking help from the Soviets. (This is a massive oversimplification of the situation that I only just learned about myself, but I promise it’s explained much more eloquently within the book!)

Our story begins with Tolya, a Soviet sniper who accidentally-on-purpose shoots his squadron’s political officer after he finds him harassing a woman in the streets (but he also recently sentenced a friend of Tolya’s to death, so...). This impulsive murder is an immediate death warrant for Tolya, as there’s no way the NKVD—essentially, the Soviet CIA—will not instantly torture a confession out of him. But salvation comes in the most curious of forms: a group of UPA freedom fighters who need Tolya’s sharpshooting skills to help assassinate the head of the NKVD. Who can you trust in a war where everyone is trying to kill you, especially when you barely trust yourself?

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You, Love

Seventeen-year-old Tolya is a unique—and reviled—product of his environment: his mother was Polish and his father Ukrainian, and both were murdered for simply being themselves when he was still young. He’s lived in a world that has spit on him and starved him within an inch of his life, and to top it all off, he considers himself a traitor to his parents for voluntarily signing up with the Soviets so he had access to things like food and clothing. Tolya is a sad little cinnamon roll I just wanted to hug. I wanted to sit him down and explain to him that doing what it takes in order to keep yourself alive in a world that is hellbent on making sure you die would in no way be a betrayal to parents who loved him. He has an air of naiveté around him, despite the things he’s lived through, and his mixed heritage has given him a unique perspective to understand “both sides”. As a consequence, though, he doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere.

On the other hand, Aleksey (code name: Solovey, which instantly meant I already had a soft spot for him since that's also the name of an excellent horse-friend from another Russian-related book I adore) deserved no fewer hugs, but I also ended up with a bit of a crush after our time together. He’s got that wry, self-deprecating charm and intelligence that, in war-time, is more of a hindrance than a help (ignorance is bliss, y’all). When Tolya meets “Solovey”, he’s a grim and insightful twenty-one year old UPA fighter, but readers are also privy to a younger, less hardened version Aleksey, whose sole concern is keeping his family, including his younger brother and his jailed Ukrainian political activist father, alive and well. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There are some very, very small hints of romance, but there is literally no time for that. We are dealing with life and death! While my knee-jerk reaction to “no romance” is always to be a little disappointed, rest assured that you won’t really need it for this book.

Talky Talk: The History Channel, But Awesome

There have been countless pages written about World War II, and with good reason. It’s a complex and fascinating glimpse into the human psyche and the socio-political complexities of the world. I feel like I’ve read my share of books set during WWII, but when I saw McCrina’s novel was set in Poland, focusing on an aspect of the war I haven’t ever read about before, I was instantly intrigued. Then I learned that the author of another WWII book that made me bawl like a baby endorsed the shizz out of it, and I couldn’t wait to dive in. (And warning: this book definitely got a few tears out of me too.)

Happily, Traitor was completely worth it! I got sucked in by Tolya’s earnest and slightly naïve viewpoint and fell hard for Aleksey’s battle-weary optimism. And when I say sucked in, I mean I sat down on a Saturday morning to “start reading” the book and when I looked up from the last page of the author’s notes it was early Saturday evening. McCrina’s writing was so immersive and rich, layering historical facts with fiction and tiny-but-important set-building details that made Galicia, this unfamiliar region of Poland, jump off the page and into my mind’s imagination. Her ability to capture the emotional core of the characters and relate their stories to universal truths also makes me deeply excited to see what she does next.

I will warn you that this book is not going to be for everyone. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of the terrors of war, and while I think it’s good for us to be exposed to things that make us uncomfortable sometimes, you know what you can handle. Some may be annoyed that the ending isn’t going to be tied up in a perfect bow, and while I could’ve used more at the end, myself, I was at peace with it.

Bonus Factor: Psychology

Understanding yourself and your motivations are big themes throughout the novel. Rectifying your beliefs with your actions in a world that forces you to choose between honor and survival can be a level of self-actualization that few can ever achieve, and it can manifest in some crazy cognitive dissonance. Understanding the motivations of others is almost just as murky, and forgiving them for also being human is a Herculean task. I was alternately fascinated and horrified by the psychological aspects of the story as you watch everyone figure out who to trust…and who to kill.

Bonus Factor: WWII 

So. Much. Was going on back then. Obviously life around the world today is still constantly way more complex and nuanced than whatever picture we get in our media, but this particular war changed and destroyed generations and civilizations as we know them. I wish we spent more time in school discussing history in a more engaging and dynamic way to really “bring to life” topics that go far beyond Allies = good, Axis = bad. I loved learning more about an area of WWII in which I had no real familiarity or formal exposure to, which is a shame.  

Anti-Bonus Factor: Tribalism

It’s not hard to strip back the brutality of war and recognize the dozens of tiny ways the aggression and hatred between the Ukrainians and the Polish and Soviets and Germans seems, well, scarily familiar. Are we not fighting and perpetuating the same kinds of wrongs in so many places today, with opposing factions believing their side is superior to the other, “othering” that which they don’t agree with while resorting to violence and propaganda, and closing ranks to keep out anything “undesirable” from their own community? We, as the human race, have really learned jack-all from our pasts. You know what they say about history and doom…

Relationship Status: I’ll Be Seeing You

I’ll still be missing you long after our tryst is over, Book. Your raw honesty and the horrors you’ve seen touched me, and yet you haven’t let this world make you cold and hateful. Life isn’t fair, and though we have to part, we can always remember these moments we had together.

Literary Matchmaking:


• I mean, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t try to make you read Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity at least one more time in this review. Pro-tip: keep an entire box of tissues handy. 

• For more WWII stories with questionable loyalties and teenagers who had to grow up long before their time, check out Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy. 

• In case you are warred out but still want some historical action and similarly amazing writing, I wholeheartedly recommend a Russian folklore-based series from Katherine Alden, beginning with The Bear and the Nightingale. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Macmillian Children’s Publishing Group. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Traitor is available now.
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Historical fiction is not normally a genre that I would pick up. Don’t get wrong history was my favorite subject in school, but whenever I would pick up a work of fiction based on history the dates, places, and historical events became jumbled in my head.

The Story

Everyone remembers reading about World War II in school, but it was always hard to imagine the actual people fighting in the war. The lessons always made that part of history feel so far away. But Traitor puts you right next to these young men and women as they fight for their lives and for whichever side they are on, even the characters don’t know sometimes. The Polish Resistance, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the Soviet secret police (NKVD), and the German special forces units (Nachtigallen) all fight against each other at one time or another and there seem to be traitors everywhere. The main characters never seem to have a moment’s rest and I did not tire of this story at all while reading it. There are also two different timelines and it just adds to the story even more as details are revealed in the later timeline that explain things that happened in the earlier timeline and vice versa.

The Protagonists

Aleksey and Tolya became very real as I neared the end of their stories. I could honestly read about them forever. Both Tolya and Aleksey constantly battled internal struggles, while having to watch their backs against enemies and their own people. I really felt for them as they made their way through their individual battles and it saddened me when it seemed that they were never going to catch a break. People around them were dying and they never knew when they were going to be safe again. They both just really tugged at my heartstrings.

The Writing

McCrina does a fabulous job of putting you right there with the characters. You never truly know where each character’s loyalty lies no matter how many chapters you read in this story. Each time a new character is introduced I scream internally because I’m wondering if they are going to betray my beloved Aleksey and Tolya or not. McCrina knows just how to keep you on your toes and keep you guessing as the story progresses. She also ended the story on a heartbreaking note that kept me wanting to know more. The author also handles multiple timelines seamlessly. The details that she leaves in each of the timelines are just jaw-dropping and it excited me when I was able to piece together what happened between the two timelines. I am not sure if there is going to be a sequel to this phenomenal book, but if there is, I am all here for it. However, if that is all the story that we are going to get about Tolya and Aleksey, then I am perfectly happy that I got to experience their story in the first place.
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This book was hard to follow and meandered too much for me. I didn’t really every connect with the story.
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"Traitor" by Amanda McCrina had its pros and cons. 
Pro #1: It was about WWII, but focused entirely on Poland and Ukraine while they had Germany coming on one side and Russia on the other and had plenty of tension between themselves, and this was something I'd never learned about before so that was unique and really interesting.
Con #1: I knew nothing about the names of all these armies and resistance groups and that was really, really confusing. I spent 3/4 of the book wondering which side these people were on, again? Which country do they claim? I think if I'd had a physical book and could frequently and easily refer to the helpful lists in the back of the book, that probably would have helped a lot. But with an ebook I wasn't even fully aware that those sections existed until I got to the end of the book. The author's note at the end also helped me understand a lot of what I'd read, but I would've liked to know that while reading. She also had a preface where she explained some things, but it didn't mean much to me until I was already deep in the book. I don't know, maybe I'm just too dense for historical fiction as hefty as this was. 
1b. All the Ukrainian/Polish names were really hard to keep straight. Also people had titles/nicknames that made no sense to me. It was a little like reading Tolstoy, except harder. Again, having the list at the back of the book in a physical copy might have helped. 
Pro #2: The writing was great and it was action-packed.
Con #2: It was hard to feel emotionally attached to the action when I couldn't keep track of who people were and to which group and country they belonged.
Con #3: The time period/POV hopping really threw me off in the beginning especially. It was clearly marked as a jump back in time, but at first I thought maybe it was the same POV character we'd started with just in the past. Then I got confused and decided it couldn't be, but then I kept changing my mind. By the time it was confirmed for sure that the past scenes were in the POV of a different person, everything that would happen to the person was revealed and then I started wondering why I ought to bother reading the rest of it. Unless of course he was lying about what had happened to him, which many characters often were. It was very hard to keep track of. It didn't feel like a mystery I had to figure out along the way, it felt like I'd missed something or that something hadn't been made clear enough for me. 
Basically, this book was way over my head. Maybe if I was more of a history/Eastern European nerd I would have been able to enjoy it more, but I spent too much time being lost and confused to really get into it. It did have its good moments. It just wasn't very accessible for me, but that doesn't necessarily mean that would be true for everyone.
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This is a very good book with a very large web of possible readers. This would be a fantastic book club book, because it gives the readers may topics to discuss from the writing style to the characters and to the topics discussed in the book. This is why I gave it four out of five stars.
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Review posted on GoodReads (August 28, 2020) 
Review linked. 

3/5 stars! 

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group for sending me an E-ARC for an honest review! 

I was really interested in this book from the moment I heard about it. I have always loved reading Historical Fiction, and I love finding new books that shed light on an area of history that some people might not know that much about. 

For me, this story was super fast paced, super action packed, and very full of information. I do feel like the plot was a bit too fast at times, but I was never bored during this book and each chapter made me want to continue reading. I think why I am giving this book three stars instead of four is because of how confused I was with the characters. There is a list in the book that explains everything, but since I had an E-ARC, the list was in the back of the book and not at the beginning. Unfortunately, throughout the story, I did get confused by connections between characters and the roles that certain characters had in the world and in the story.  

Other than that, I did enjoy this book and I do recommend it to people who love historical fiction. 

Thanks for reading! 
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The tension began on page one and was sustained throughout the book.  It kept me turning the pages.  

The dual timeline didn't work well for me.  It seemed to make it harder for me to keep track of the factions and what their purpose was.  At times I also found myself confusing parts of the back stories of the two main characters.

The end of the book was quite abrupt.  It didn't feel like the story was over yet.  It felt like their could be a sequel to come,

Overall this was an interesting and engaging read.

Thank you to NetGalley and The Book Club Girls for the E-ARC.
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This is such a different kind of WWII novel and I really enjoyed it! The pace was great and the plot was engaging. I only wish I had known about the character glossary at the end. The downside of reading on a kindle I have learned is that I often miss the ability to just flip around.
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Oh man this was super interesting. I din't know much about what Poland and Ukraine were going through during WWII and what there liberation from Germany by the Soviets caused.  It was really easy to see how you could get caught up being a traitor to both sides depending on what you had to do to survive during the occupation by germany or when the red army The Soviets came through. There was a wide cast of characters and so much historical detail that it was like you were there. All in all just really good read and I really liked learning the history of the region that I didn't really know when I started this book.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux  and Netgalley for the complimentary copy of this book in e-book form. All opinions in this review are my own.
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This harrowing, complex thriller illumines a terrible, little-known chapter of World War II – the brutal violence that erupted between Ukrainians and Poles in disputed border regions controlled by the Germans, then the Soviets – and the impossible choices facing young people trying to survive in a world where loyalty to one side or another could mean a very painful death and where anyone could betray you at anytime.

McCrina sets her tale in the occupied Galician city of Lwow (Lviv to Ukrainians), skipping back and forth in time, between 1941, with Germans about to invade after the Soviet retreat, and 1944, after the Soviet liberation of the city, and the stories of 17-year-old Tolya, a half-Polish, half-Ukrainian sniper in the Soviet Army, and Aleksey Kobryn, elder son of a jailed Ukrainian nationalist leader. The author excels at writing thrilling scenes of close calls, of surprising betrayals and even more surprising alliances, of self-sacrifice and heroism, of chase and combat, of hunter and hunted, not sparing graphic details of hellish violence and torture. 

As the novel begins, Tolya has just impulsively killed his unit's political officer, Zampolit Petrov, when he is rescued by Aleksey's squad of the Ukrainian insurgent army. The reader would do well to keep referring to the list of characters at the end to keep them all straight in what can become a very confusing list of similar names allied with warring forces including the Nachtigallen (a special-forces unit of the German army comprised of Ukrainian volunteers), the Polish Resistance, the NKVD (Soviet secret police) and the the UPA (Ukrainian insurgent army). (In an interview with Publishers Weekly, McCrina said she wrote the Tolya and Aleksey novels separately and then wove them together.)

The title is beautifully clarified in Tolya's thoughts here: "He didn't say anything. What was there to say? He wasn't Polish, and he wasn't Ukrainian. He was a traitor to his father's people on account of his mother, and a traitor to his mother's people on account of his father, and a traitor to both on account of the Reds, and a traitor to the Reds on account of Zampolit Petrov."
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