Historical Fiction is a hard taskmaster. The author must weave the fiction elements into the harsh reality of the facts. When done well (a rare occurrence) you have a book where fact and fiction blend so well that the reader does not know where one ends, and the other begins.

These are lofty goals. But there is one even higher. Weave fact and fiction together and create a work that not only entertains but also teaches. I found that in Chip Wagar and his debut novel An American In Vienna.

The First World War or Great War has been written about many times. Authors have labored long and hard on books about the battlefront, the inhumane conditions, the horrible torture that those brave men faced. Few authors though dare to tread in the ‘back story’. How did a gun shot start a conflict that consumed the Western World for four years?

Chip Wagar has taken a very unique approach. Through the eyes of a vacationing young American visiting Vienna we are exposed to how this war escalated and forever changed the world map.

Andy Bishop has just graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in journalism. His plan is to join his father in the family business, a newspaper in Columbus, Ohio. However before he ‘settles down’, he wants to explore Europe, most particularly Austria, which seems to be where the family roots are. And when an invitation is extended to visit these relatives Andy sets sail for the adventure of his lifetime.

Andy Bishop quickly discovers that his Viennese cousins  are not regular middle class merchants and bankers, but rather members of Austrian aristocracy with close toes to the Kaiser himself.

The brutal slaying of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie sets the wheels in motion for world war one. This information is hardly new, and almost any High Schooler will recite this fact. But what is far less well understood is why this senseless murder was so pivotal in shaping the events of the ensuing months.

1914 might in retrospect seem a poor choice of date to visit Europe, but minor skirmishes between countries had been going on for hundreds of years!

Chip Wagar is to be congratulated, he has taken a very complex political history subject and presented it in a fashion that any reader will enjoy.

Using the character Andy Bishop as the storytelling conduit is a master stroke, it is sheer brilliance. Andy being an American is at best naive as to the the politics in Austria, and in the rest of Europe

Through Andy Bishop we meet Johann and Maria. Johann is the the young and debonair aide-de-camp to Franz Ferdinand, and Maria his aristocratic, but very forward thinking fiance. It could be argued that what results is a love triangle, but it is very far from the standard one. I prefer the term Dynamic over Love Triangle. There is a unique dynamic between these three people.

An American In Vienna is a very unique book. There are three ways to approach Historical Fiction, live the life vicariously through other books, and increasingly resources found on the Internet. The second approach is write about an area that you spent at least a little time in, this allows you the luxury of being able to describe the location with a sense of ‘being there’.

The third approach is the rarest and always most effective, total immersion.

An American In Vienna is clearly written using ‘total immersion’. The dead giveaways are found in the very opening pages. It is the minutiae of everyday life that is mentioned. ‘Hoch’ German is not so much a dialect of speech as it is a lifestyle.

I talked to Chip Wagar a little about An American In Vienna, my guess about ‘immersion’ was correct, Chip spent a considerable amount of time in Vienna as a student.

An American In Vienna is well worth the price of admission, it is a book that has wide and diverse appeal. You can read it as a great adventure novel, or you can read it as a very interesting discussion of the causes and in someways effects of World War One viewed from the Austrian perspective.

A saying popped into my mind when I put this book down, ‘there are three views about any situation, there is mine, there is yours, and there is the truth which lays somewhere in between’. I am a fan of history, but as George Orwell alludes to in 1984, the history books are written by the victors.

You can get your copy of this very thought provoking book by using the Amazon link above. This is a book destined for great things.

Simon Barrett

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