The Losing Role is a WWII espionage story from the German point of view, based on an actual German spy mission in which English-speaking German soldiers were sent behind American lines.
Steve Anderson was drawn to the story because, although the operation took on legendary status, it was really a debacle. Most of the soldiers recruited for the effort had been actors, waiters, or sailors – exposed to some American English, maybe, but not really fluent and not capable of pulling off such an audacious campaign of wartime terrorism.
Max Kaspar gets plucked off the Eastern Front and into the operation because he is an actor who spent years in New York. As the official plans go awry, Max forms his own plan, one that finds him at cross-purposes with everyone he encounters.
Telling the story from Max's perspective gives it an edge not possible with an American narrator. The Nazis and their SS goons are the real bad guys. Max is stuck in the middle, with mixed feelings for America where he failed as an actor, and grieving for his country and its inevitable destruction. His is a story of thwarted ambition, personal identity, lost love, divided loyalty, and, above all, the striving for freedom.
Anderson's journalism background reveals itself in the clear way he tells the story, with descriptive details instead of leaden explanations. He understands the rule that it is better to show the reader than tell the reader.
He also has a great ear for dialog, which is crucial in a story about language and linguistic subterfuge. Again, without telling, simply by doing, Anderson subtly distinguishes between Germans with varying levels of fluency in English -- from those who have mastered American slang, to the hero who is fluent but too formal, to those who get it all wrong. Much of the plot turns on these distinctions.
The Losing Role is a terrific book that deserves a wide audience. It is exciting and funny and keeps you thinking long after the action is over.
Man of la Book (review, author interview)
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My interview with the author is here. You can read more about Steve Anderson and his other books on his website.