A Novel set on the Eastern Front in World War II
When two German fighter pilots are flung into the terrible siege of Stalingrad during the Second World War, they discover that the conflict in the air is as fierce as in the frozen streets below. These young men must somehow survive long enough to learn the skills of air combat so they can challenge their powerful enemy and protect those they have come to love and respect.
As madness threatens to overtake one of the traumatized pilots, they try every tactic to overcome the bitter odds trapping their comrades in the Stalingrad pocket. A story of determination and the discovery of personal strength, Sundog shows the importance of duty and loyalty and friendship at a time when the entire world had turned itself to war.
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We at TVC are not particularly interested in the experiences of German pilots stationed in Southern Russia in December 1942, and so we would not have picked up Sundog, had we not known that its author, Canadian Jeff Janoda was also the author of the terrific, Saga A Novel of Medieval Iceland. Janoda justified our faith. It would have been our loss, had we judged this book by its subject matter. The settings of the two novels could not be more different, but the concise, detailed and historically rich style are the same.
Sundog is a truly ripping yarn, a tale of derring-do for adults, told with psychological depth and consistency. The story of each of the pilots – compassionate Fraser, his disturbingly dependent protege Lau, Leutnant Eichorn of the ravaged face, intense Major Konnet and even Air Marshall von Richthofen (cousin of the more famous baron) is given thoughtful treatment as we follow the struggles for supremacy within the German ranks in the wasteland of a war that is lost. The erstwhile stringent tiers of military hierarchy are strained by personal triumphs, failures and preferences.
Sundog is action-packed. The reader would do well to pay attention to the historical notes, glossaries and maps at the rear of the book, or there is a danger of losing track of the to-ing and fro-ing between airbases.
It’s important to keep track of German military terms such as gruppe and staffel. (We have two minor quibbles, about this meticulously drawn book. Firstly strangely, although there are descriptions of aircraft such as the Russian Yak and the German Stuka, there is no description in the glossary of the most commonly-appearing German workhorse fighter, the Gustav. Second – there is a risk of confusing some of the many lesser characters.
They are not always readily distinguishable – the reader is advised to keep a list.)
Janoda draws us into the vivid world of the last days of World War II in Russia – the snow, fear, hunger and illness. Men living in burnt-out airplane shells in below freezing temperatures. Young pilots learning intricate flying manoeuvres one day and executing them the next, for real, against enemy fighters, mere hundreds of feet from the frozen ground. The fights are excitingly told:
“The Yak disintegrated under the burst, throwing back a storm of debris. Fraser screamed out in triumph, his teeth bared as if in a fight of the flesh. Thuds sounded along his fighter’s wing root, the Gustav pitching from the impacts of the doomed enemy aircraft’s pieces. Gouts of oil struck his windscreen suddenly, startling him out of his savage fugue, lubricants released from the Yak’s torn engine. He could see nothing ahead of him.
”Break!” Eichorn shouted, “Break!”
Fraser braked away frantically into the clear. The side of his canopy remained open in broad swatches, although heavily dotted with oil. He watched the destroyed Yak plummet to the ground, trailing flames.”
Sundog is on a par with Saga, – addictive and thrilling – despite its vastly different subject matter. We await Mr Janoda’s next novel with interest. Where will he go next? We are sure to be going with him.
The Varnished Culture (Lesley Jacobsen)
An ambitious historical novel set on the eastern front during World War II follows a band of German pilots.
Nazi Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union included a large air contingent. While the Germans initially dominated the Russians, the Soviet Air Force came to mount a fierce resistance over the next two years. Janoda (Saga: A Novel of Medieval Iceland, 2005) makes the unusual choice to depict this historical moment from the perspective of the German military, particularly that of a group of Luftwaffe pilots stationed on the remote, freezing, and brutal Russian front. While the cast of characters features devoted Nazi officers intent on earning medals and honors, it also includes more complex figures, such as a highly skilled but mentally unstable German pilot, a reluctantly accepted Ukrainian volunteer worker, and Lt. Daniel Fraser, a pilot raised in America. Fraser emerges as the closest thing the novel has to a protagonist. While a student in the United States, Fraser considered joining the U.S. Air Force, but after returning to Germany on the eve of the war, he eagerly joined the Luftwaffe instead. When questioned about his loyalties, he doesn’t hesitate to answer, “I am a Luftwaffe officer, sir.” At the same time, Fraser’s outsider status—and the influence of his investigative journalist father—allows him a greater perspective on Nazi politics than those of most of the men he serves with. The story mixes plenty of interpersonal conflicts with scenes of intense combat. The plot, however, could easily have fit into a book of two-thirds the length. Meticulous explorations of German military bureaucracy and equipment fill many pages. Janoda’s novel, which is more thorough than many history books, even provides a healthy set of appendices featuring historical notes, a glossary, a rank table, and two maps. Military history buffs should relish the opportunity to spend so much time in a fully realized World War II environment, but many other readers will find the novel daunting.”
Junkers during the Demyansk airlift 1942
German Soldiers during World War 2
Kessel von Stalingrad
Junkers 52 landing
"He tells a tale of complex feud with all the fullness and detail of a modern novel"
“As focussed as Jane Austen, as macabre as Stephen King, Jeff Janoda traces out the hidden springs of power in the micro-society of an Icelandic fjord. He tells a tale of complex feud with all the fullness and detail of a modern novel, but leaves its violent and treacherous heroes as enigmatic as before. A brilliant blend of scholarship and insight.”
–Thomas Shippey, author of J.R.R Tolkien: Author of the Century.
"This detail-rich novel is a retelling of a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga"
“This detail-rich novel is a retelling of a thirteenth-century Icelandic saga written by an unknown author. The original document arises from the colonization of Iceland by Norwegian settlers, and this particular tale unfolds before the enticed reader’s eye as an intriguing concoction of abject realism (the day-to-day livelihood as practiced by the colonizers is explained, and the physical features of the land are beautifully described) and flights of fantasy (elves are co-populates of the Iceland presented here). The storyline is essentially about land—who owns it, who disputes the ownership of it—in this hardscrabble agrarian society, where inheritance of land means everything, and honor, and necessary revenge against those who would besmirch it, are the essential tenets of life. Tribal organization and clan government are opened to contemporary viewing and appreciation. With the author’s ability to pump viability into the character, the novel does what good historical fiction is supposed to do: put a face on history that is recognizable to us all.”
–Brad Hooper, Booklist, May 15, 2005
"Jeff Janoda proves himself to be a master storyteller as he brings tenth-century Iceland brilliantly to life"
“Jeff Janoda proves himself to be a master storyteller as he brings tenth-century Iceland brilliantly to life. SAGA is a powerful and absorbing read, rich and authentic in detail, sharply insightful, and brimming with finely rendered characters whose lives are intricately bound through the ties of loyalty, kinship, duty, and, above all, the Law.
Janoda deftly handles the complexities and harsh realities of life in the early Free State, peeling away layers of motives and shrewd cunning that drives men’s actions — be it born of wisdom, high ideals, and ethical strength; greed and a lust for power and land that leads to treachery, betrayal, and bloodshed; or a more basic need to appease the gods and dark spirits that haunt the land and even, at times, the restless wanderings of the dead. This is storytelling at its best. In short, SAGA is superb!”
–Anita Gordon (writing as Kathleen Kirkwood), author of “The Heart Trilogy”
"Janoda's rendering of the physical and intellectual landscape is effortless"
“This debut novel is a masterful retelling of the Icelandic Eyrbyggja Saga, originally written down around 1250. Medieval Iceland was unique in its form of government, which was based on allegiance to chieftains and adherance to law rather than on a feudal system. Saga tells the story of two rival chieftains, Snorri and Arnkel, and their quest for land and loyalty. They are “gothi,” sacerdotal rulers to whom men swear allegiance and in turn receive protection. The characters are as central to the narrative as Iceland’s wild and barren terrain; in this place and time, land is everything, and a man is nothing without it. Janoda’s rendering of the physical and intellectual landscape is effortless, belying the many years of scholarship that must have gone into this work. One hopes that this excellent piece of historical fiction will find a wider audience than its esoteric subject matter might suggest. Highly recommended.”
Wendy Bethel, Library Journal
"Janoda paints a richly textured portrait of Icelandic culture"
“If the mob bosses of The Sopranos spoke Old Norse and wore chain mail, they would feel right at home in this absorbing historical melodrama. In the harsh environs of Iceland’s Swan’s Fjord, circa 965, the inhabitants live by their wits. At the top of the heap are two rival chieftains, the intimidating warrior Arnkel and the cagey operator Snorri. Their power rests occasionally on the sword, but more fundamentally on their influence over their bands of followers, or Thingmen, whom they control through patronage, elaborate webs of favors and debts and their formal role in settling (for a fee) the many disputes that arise in Iceland’s intensely litigious society. Surrounding them—jockeying for position in a Machiavellian world of mead-hall conspiracies, double and triple crosses, surreptitious murders and poisoned gifts of honey—is a sprawling cast of characters, including Arnkel’s conscience-stricken chief henchman Thorgils, the sons of Thorbrand, battling Arnkel for their land, and honest farmer Ulfars and his wife Auln, tragically caught up in machinations they cannot fathom. In Iceland’s austere terrain, with its meager margin of agricultural subsistence, they struggle over the brute necessities of life: fish, cows, hay and, most of all, trees, which are worth their weight in gold.
Debut novelist Janoda paints a richly textured portrait of Icelandic culture, from the daily routine of farm chores to the protocols of pagan ritual sacrifice. The intricate but well-paced narrative, based on a traditional Icelandic saga, moves grimly forward, brimming with multigenerational cycles of bloodshed and vengeance set against a backdrop of ghostly apparitions and elvish malevolence that symbolize the dark, tectonic forces of human greed and rage. Despite the archaic setting, Janoda manages to imbue his characters with believable psychologies and motivations. A gripping recreation of an ancient genre”