Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vango: Between Sky and Earth by Timothée de Fombelle

Born in 1915 and raised on by a nanny simply known as Mademoiselle, Vango has no idea who he is or where he came from.  He and Mademoiselle were rescued from the sea by the strange Mazzetta when Vango was only 3 and they remained on Salina, one of the Aeolian island off the coast of Sicily.  At 10 Vango discovers a hidden monastery on another island called Arkudah and befriends its founder, Father Zefiro.

The story begins in April 1934 just as Vango, now 19, is ready to take his vows, following Father Zefire into the priesthood.  Lying prostrate in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with others about to be ordained, a shot directed at Vango suddenly is heard.  Within seconds, Vango finds himself on the run, a wanted man, for a crime or crimes of which he is completely innocent.

Eluding the very Inspector Clouseau-like Superintendent Augusta Boulard of the Paris police, as well as unknown, but the just as persistent sinister pursuers from Stalinist Russia, and Gestapo from the newly created Nazi Germany, Vango does find aid from old friends.

First with the elderly anti-Nazi German commander of the Graf Zeppelin, Hugo Eckener and second, with young, beautiful Ethel, 16, who witnessed the shooting at Notre Dame.  Since the death of their parents, Ethel and her older brother Paul have lived in the family's Everland  Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland.  Paul is in the RAF, and Ethel skillfully drives a speedy Railton automobile all over Europe looking for Vango.

As Vango remains on the run, a master of disguise and escape, he begins to wonder who he really is and why he is the focus of such an intense international manhunt.  The reader, of course, has been wondering this all along.  Is the mystery solved by the end of the novel?  Well, remember, there is a second book.

What an exciting adventure reading Vango is.  I began it one night after dinner and by the next afternoon I had finished reading this 432 page whirlwind of a novel.  Timothée de Fombelle has brought together such a varied cast of characters, some real figures from history, others completely imagined, all excellent at the part they play in Vango's story.

Though there is a lot of back story throughout the novel, the central story runs from April 1933 to Christmas Eve 1935, and both the settings and time frame are pivotal points of the interwar years.  Politically, Hitler has just seized power in Germany, Stalin had just been re-elected in Russia (thanks to the assassination of his political rival, the anti-Communist Sergi Kerov) and both dictators were beginning to tighten their grip in their respective countries through the use of secret police.

The Zeppelin had been in use since before World War I and during the war was actually used for bombing raids over England.  By 1934, the Nazis had insisted that a swastika be painted in the right fin of the Graf Zeppelin (in the novel, Eckener has trouble with the Gestapo after painting over the swastika), a real nail-biter scene.  Commander Eckener and Captain Ernst Lehmann of the Graf Zeppelin are two more characters taken from real life that populate Vango.

Vango was seamlessly translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone.  I can't think of one awkward sentence in the whole book and I think she has really captured the feel, the flavor and the style of the storytelling, which reminded me very much of novels written during that period of time.  And as epic as  Vango is nothing is superfluous.  Everything is there for a reason.

All this results in a very exciting and interesting Zeitgeschichte.  But the mystery remains - who is Vango and why does someone want his arrested or even dead?  And what is the meaning of the Latin words "How many kingdoms know us not" that are embroidered on the handkerchief Vango is almost never without?  I have not idea!

I don't any of the answers to the mystery raised in the story, but I can't wait to read the second book: Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom.  Maybe the answers to all the question raised in Vango: Between Sky and Earth will be answered.  One thing I do know is that this is historical fiction at its best!

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This was an EARC received from Net Galley

This book will be available in the U.S. October 14, 2014 and normally I wouldn't post about a book so far in advance, but...

FYI: If Vango sounds like a book you might like to read and you will be at BEA 2014, galleys will be handed out by Candlewick Press at some point, according to Publisher's Weekly (but remember, that is all subject to change)

AND Walker Books Australia has posted a very useful teaching guide for Vango that can be found HERE

This is book 8 of my 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry
This is book 4 of my 2014 European Reading Challenge hosted by Bay City Reader


  1. Glad to hear about this one! I love to learn about any book that can be described as HF at its best! Plus, I will be at the BEA on Friday- so I will keep my eye out for it. :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow! this looks incredible. But I won't be at the BEA. :( I do appreciate your review, though!

  3. Yes, I love this book! (I know i m a little late) and (again) thankyou so much for sharing