Vango—Historical Fiction at its Finest

Well-written, exciting, action-packed, set between WWI and WWII, and excellently translated, Vango: Between Earth and Sky by Timothée de Fombelle, and translated by Sarah Ardizzone, is currently contending for a spot in my top five favorite YA books of all time.

A historical fiction mystery and adventure novel traverses most of Europe, exploring surfacing tensions during the 20th century following the rise of Hitler, Stalin, and preceding the start of WWII. This book, the first of the two-part series,  explores themes and motifs of fate, divine intervention, sacrifice of relationships in return for protection for loved-ones, corruption, and communication. Between Earth and Sky follows Vango, a boy with a mysterious past, an innocent boy suspected of murder. Featuring an ensemble cast, this book expertly balances character development with plot development.

It takes great skill to jump between ten plus characters and still have a balanced narrative with a clear main character, and an engaged audience. While the sheer number of characters forces the novel to sacrifice an intimate reader relationship with the main character, the complexity of the storylines compensates, and even works the absence of intimacy to its advantage. Because the reader is unable to identify intimately with Vango, the mystery of his past and his character becomes an increasingly alluring, drawing the reader further into the mystery.

I thought at one point in the book that the large array of characters would be superfluous by the end of the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that each and every character served a distinct purpose, everything and everyone included within the storyline felt purposely placed in order to better serve the story. de Fombelle’s calculated way of writing both led and misled the reader through giving the clues necessary to solving the mysteries of the novel, but doing so in a way that the reader was either unaware of the importance of the information, or misinterpreted it. While this could have resulted in a confusing and disastrous effect, I found the end result delightfully complex and satisfying.

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed Between Earth and Sky, and it was also largely due to the quality of the translation. Had I not known beforehand that it had been translated from French to English, I would never have guessed. Not a single sentence felt out-of-place or awkward. Ardizzone, did an excellent job of translating de Fombelle’s beautiful novel. The figurative language was fresh (I particularly enjoyed the many metaphors), and imaginative, and each sentence felt beautifully crafted.

I highly recommend this book. I absolutely loved it. However, if you do decide to give it a try, I would recommend taking it in slowly, and savoring it. The complexity of the many storylines can get confusing if you aren’t paying close attention.