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Ernst Vogler is a young man who has been tasked with bringing an ancient statue, The Discus Thrower, to Germany in 1938, where is will be added to Hitler’s collection. He travels to Rome by train only to find that instead of returning the statue to Germany by rail as he was originally led to believe, he has to take it by truck to the border, assisted by Enzo and Cosimo, twins and Italian policemen. On this unplanned detour, Ernst learns a lot about himself and the men he travels with.
Ms. Romano-Lax’s story takes us though a rural Italy where self-interest and love pull the main characters in conflicting directions. Ernst carries a trauma with him from childhood which is never fully revealed until very near the end of the book. The author very successfully looks at what perfection really is; there static perfection of ancient marble, the fluid perfection of Aryan manhood and how a flawed human like Ernst fits in to the new Germany.
Each of The Detour’s character is flawed in some way – scarred, broken hearted, barren – yet the way they interact with each other, the love and understanding that they show, indicates that there is much more to life than physical perfection.
More often than not Hitler is referred to as Der Kunstsammler – the collector, almost in the way that most of JK Rowling’s characters refer to Voldemort as You Know Who; as if by naming him they give him more power or make the threat of disobeying him more real.
I loved this book. The characters are sympathetically drawn and I quickly began to care what happened to Ernst. I travelled in the truck with him, Enzo and Cosimo seeing and smelling what they did and wishing I could do something to mend the hurt Ernst suffered in his youth. Ms. Romano-Lax gives us in The Detour a great story peopled by engaging characters at a time of great unrest in Europe. I hated having to put it down each night and found myself trying to stay awake longer in order to read more.
I couldn’t recommend this fabulous book more highly.