Trans­gres­sion: A Nov­el of Love and War

James W. Nichol
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
There is some­thing per­plex­ing about the title of James W. Nichol’s nov­el, Trans­gres­sion: A Nov­el of Love and War: trans­gres­sion is sin­gu­lar. One won­ders why. There are cer­tain­ly notable trans­gres­sions — vio­la­tions of law, com­mand, or duty — in wartime; and in this nov­el, the pro­tag­o­nist, Adele Georges, a six­teen-year-old French girl, indeed exceeds the bounds and lim­its in her love affair with Man­fred Halder, a nine­teen-year-old Ger­man sol­dier. Even the sea trans­gress­es, since the nov­el is alter­nate­ly set in wartime France and in Cana­da from 1941 through 1946, and in the end, it is Adele who lies by the sea await­ing the birth of her first child. So, is the read­er asked to accept one spe­cif­ic trans­gres­sion as the theme?

One can argue that giv­en the time and place, the love shared by Adele and Man­fred is sin­ful because it involves mutu­al trans­gres­sions of reli­gious or moral law and because it is delib­er­ate. Togeth­er, the pair defy the body of rules and prin­ci­ples gov­ern­ing the affairs of a com­mu­ni­ty by naive­ly believ­ing that We are the new Euro­pean order.…We will help to build a world where this can’t hap­pen any­more… French and Ger­man togeth­er.” When their affair is revealed, the Roeun/​French com­mu­ni­ty trans­gress­es the laws of human decen­cy and pun­ish­es in their own way: as a man began to shave (Adele’s) head,” and a woman came for­ward and paint­ed (Adele’s) skull in cold, wet criss-crossing.”

One can also iden­ti­fy sev­er­al sub­texts as trans­gres­sions. There is an under­ly­ing thread of failed father-son rela­tion­ships that defy rules of con­duct estab­lished by cus­tom. The sep­a­ra­tion of fam­i­lies and the con­comi­tant search for them involve trans­gres­sions between soci­eties and author­i­ty: In France, Adele begins the search for her father, the esteemed Dr. Hen­ri Paul-Louis, who had gone miss­ing in action against the Ger­mans” by going to the Domes­tic Pop­u­la­tion Bureau of Infor­ma­tion, a Wehrma­cht office; in Cana­da, Jack Cullen, local chief of police, seeks to solve a mur­der. In both sit­u­a­tions, there are trans­gres­sions of law by those respon­si­ble for enforc­ing it; yet, the mys­ter­ies trans­gress as well.

There is love, war, sus­pense, and psy­cho­log­i­cal innu­en­do in this nov­el and each is pre­sent­ed as a series — more than one — of transgressions.
Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

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