The epic fifteenth novel in Wilbur Smith’s Courtney Series, War Cry is a cross-continental adventure spanning the interwar years. Written in conjunction with David Churchill, Smith’s recent release details the life of the fearless Saffron Courtney, daughter of war hero and trading business heir, Leon, and Gerhard von Meerbach, son of industrialist Otto, and brother to Count-turned-Nazi, Konrad.
War Cry was my introduction to Wilbur Smith’s work, and while I was unfamiliar with the previous tales of the Courtney family, this novel certainly serves as a stand-alone book. Having studied Germany between the wars and the rise of Nazism at school, as well as Masai culture, I was drawn to the book for its ability to enmesh vastly different cultures during a tumultuous time in history.
War Cry traverses time and country, eloquently contrasting the ‘grassy hills, garlanded with sparkling streams’ in Kenya, with the ‘sprawling citadel of industry’ and brutal Nazi regime in Germany, and affluent English society. Early in the novel, we are introduced to the Courtney family – Leon, Eva and their daughter Saffron, and made aware of their standing amongst British settlers in Kenya. While they are involved in polo clubs and own an expansive estate and a Rolls Royce, the Courtneys also have a strong relationship with the Masai people, namely Manyoro, Leon’s blood brother and his mother, Lusima Mama. After tragedy strikes, Saffron eventually moves to the Rodean school in South Africa, and then to England, her sights set on Oxford.
Gerhard, the idealistic younger brother of Konrad, a vocal Nazi supporter and chairman to Meerbach Motor Works, is an architecture student in the European epicentre of culture, Berlin. His interest in Modernism, studies at the Bauhaus School and his ties to family lawyer and father figure, Isidore Solomons, lead Reinhard Heydrich to interrogate Gerhard about his allegiance to communism and relationship with the Jewish community in a time of persecution, ethnic cleansing and homophobia. Gerhard is given an ultimatum that challenges his worldviews.
War Cry is an larger-than-life tale that encapsulates the way in which clashing ideologies can pit family and friends against one another. The Courtney brothers become entangled in conflict over their father’s trading business, as the appeal of fascism begins to take hold. Meanwhile, on the brink of war, Saffron and Gerhard’s past and present collide, as family secrets are unearthed and loyalties come into question.
I would highly recommend this novel to history buffs and adventure fans, who will delight in Smith’s intriguing characters and contextual references. After finishing this novel, I will definitely be looking further into Smith’s back catalogue to discover more about the Courtney family’s past.
Emily Pullen – WHSmith Australia