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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Vango: Between Sky and Earth - Book One
by Timothee de Fombelle
Age Range: 14+
A large crowd has gathered in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris where nineteen-year-old Vango is about to be ordained into the priesthood, but moments before he takes his holy vows he finds himself pursued by both the police and a sinister hit man. Falsely accused of a crime he hasn’t committed, he must flee. For Vango it is a race against time in order to prove his innocence and uncover the secrets of his past.
Timothée de Fombelle is an incredible storyteller and has created such an intricate tale of intrigue and adventure. Set in the 1930s, its cinematic scope spans Europe taking in the Aeolian Islands of Salina and Alicudi, north of Sicily where Vango grew up, Nazi Germany, a chase through the streets of London, the Kremlin Palace in Moscow, where even Stalin makes an appearance, a remote castle in Scotland, and even the sky as Vango takes refuge in the Graf Zeppelin airship. Encompassing the interwar years, Vango’s story is interwoven with Europe’s history as it rumbles towards war.
Like the Toby Lollness books the characterisation is superb. There is the eccentric Hugo Eckener, commander of the Graf Zepplin; the mysterious Cat girl who scales the rooftops of Paris, Mademoiselle, Vango’s nanny who brought him up, Superintendent Boulard, a bit of an Inspector Clouseau figure, the beautiful, feisty Ethel who lives with her brother Paul in Everland castle, Inverness and Zefiro the priest from the ‘invisible monastery’ on the Island of Alicudi.
The story works on so many different levels. Narrated in a ‘media res’ style, whereby the story starts from the midpoint rather than the beginning, we only ever get a snapshot of the story at any one time. This unusual page-turner will have readers hooked from the very first paragraph. Set against the historical backdrop of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, the murky world of espionage and the fascinating detail about the Graf Zeppelin, (including the reproduction of a pictures owned by the author) this is a gripping mystery that you will not be able to put down. Beautifully written too, which is down to the excellent translation of Sarah Ardizzone, this winner of the English PEN Award has all the ingredients of a truly exceptional novel.
By the end of the book Vango still remains an enigma; readers will have to wait for book two Vango: A Prince without a Kingdom, due to be published in 2014, to discover more.