By: Suanne Laqueur
Publisher: Cathedral Rock Press
Publication Date: September 2021
Reviewed by: Kimberly Trix Lee
It has always been the job of history books to tell us about the major points of war - the Grand and Defining where and when and who. But who tells the stories about the in-betweens, the casual moments that could also be grand and defining? In A Small Hotel by Suanne Laqueur, we find out.
It was the summer of 1941 when 22-year-old Kennet “Nyck” Fiskare, the eldest son of the current generation of the Swedish hotel proprietor Fiskare family, met the love of his life. A decade after Kennet first saw Astrid’s photo, he met the lady in the flesh and promptly fell in love. It was a whirlwind summer romance but, just like all good things, it ended. Astrid had to go and marry someone out of familial obligation. That winter, just as Kennet was mourning the loss of his love and perhaps his unborn child, Pearl Harbor was attacked.
It was late autumn of 1944 when the three oldest Fiskare sons were back home for the last time in a long while. Minor (real name Erik), the second son, was in the Navy, Nalle (real name Bjorn) was recruited by the Army’s mountain unit, and Kennet joined the 21st Army Infantry Battalion. That winter, the brothers bid their goodbyes, never knowing whether it was going to be their last, and went off their separate ways to go to unfamiliar places and fight in a long and bitter war.
From Belgium to France and across Germany, Kennet kept a journal, writing about anything and everything, immortalizing the human moments he observed every time the war took a second to catch its breath, keeping a record of his own thoughts, preserving the memories of the brothers-in-arms he made, kept, and lost. He wrote about anything and everything and all of the entries were addressed to the intangible yet ever-present Astrid. After all is said and done, where do you begin to reconcile who you are at war and who you are in peaceful times?
A Small Hotel by Suanne Laqueur is a brilliant soul-stirring historical fiction set in the middle of World War II. The main character, Kennet, who was raised as a gentleman and gradually started to be changed by the war as you turn the pages, was easy to like, all the way down to the last pages. He was articulate and his journal entries were powerful and provocative and heartfelt. The characters, the dynamics among them, and the context in which they were written were developed so well - from the sassy and charming second Fiskare brother Minor, the stoic O’Hara, the rowdy “Jockstrap,” up to the religious Anderson. The dialogues, the connection, and the banter were all realistic and engaging. Every little detail was well thought out, from the Swedish lore to the colloquialisms. On top of this, the combination of points of view, third-person limited and first-person journal entries, was done magnificently. Laqueur is a master storyteller.
This was more than a historical romance. This was a tale that spoke of love, of longing, of heartbreak, but more than that it’s a tale that spoke of familial loyalty and bonds that transcend blood. This spoke of the horrors of war and the gradual yet unmistakable changes it could do once it has sunk its teeth into you. This spoke of fear, of grief, of shrieking despair, of utter helplessness and white-hot anger and cold apathy. This spoke of principles broken by circumstances and values muddied by choice. This spoke of the irony of men fighting for freedom and society’s rejection of its very heroes solely on account of their sexuality.
This was a glorious read. I want more.
Quill says: This is a brilliant tale set during World War II about love (by blood, by choice, be it romantic, familial, fraternal) and war and everything in between.