December 1918: The royal navy sends a squadron of ships to the fledgling Estonian nation to aid their fight for independence. When the squadron is due to depart, a young navy officer jumps ship, sacrificing his career for the love of a woman – but the navy reclaims its own. Huw Williams is dragged back to his homeland in disgrace.
Years later, the world is at war again. Huw is scratching a living on the docks when the past comes to call. He is flung into covert operations in a land caught between two armies, and a people living under threat of instant death or deportation to oblivion in Siberia. Huw soon finds out that killers are on his track.
He joins the Forest Brothers, the partisans living secretly amongst the silver birches of Estonia. There, ghosts of his past life emerge. This is not the return to romantic dreams he had imagined. Nevertheless, an old flame rekindles, and the once embittered Huw rediscovers his desire to help save the country and the people he loves – but how can he do either, forced to live as a fugitive in the forest?
Geraint Roberts –
“Forest Brothers” is a book that I found both satisfying and refreshing to read. Satisfying in that it’s an adventure story in the classic mould, a tale well-told, and refreshing in its setting and context – Estonia during the First and Second World Wars. It’s certainly the first book set in one of the Baltic states that I have read.
The story is that of Huw Williams, a welsh ex-navy officer who has played a part in Estonian independence in 1918. He’s then recruited as an undercover agent in 1944. Huw returns to the land that played such a pivotal role in his life as a young man and, nearly three decades later, must confront his past in a present torn apart by war.
The 1944 narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to 1918 and the reader gradually learns the significance of the people that Huw re-encounters in the forests of Estonia, living as fugitives, the “Forest Brothers”. This “then and now” telling of the story works most effectively, and certainly kept me turning the pages!
As well as being a rattling good adventure, “Forest Brothers” is a story about identity – personal identity and national identity – and is a story with a soul. It is clear that the author himself has a deep interest in land of Estonia and its history. The book is immaculately researched and has a strong sense of place in the descriptions of city and landscape. I wondered, though, if a map could be included in the next edition?
If you enjoy books by authors such as Alan Furst, then “Forest Brothers” will almost certainly appeal to you.