Across the Winding River

Written by Aimie K. Runyan
Review by Julia C. Fischer

Aimie K. Runyan’s latest novel is told in three points of view, and the lives of these three characters intersect as the book progresses. The main storyline is about Max, a Jewish American dentist stationed in Germany during World War II; he works as a medic. Max falls in love with a young German woman, Metta, who works for the resistance, and Max eventually helps the cause. The second WWII point of view is Johanna, a prominent German pilot. The final narrative takes place in 2007 San Diego and revolves around Beth, Max’s daughter. By now, Max is ninety years old and dying. While going through her father’s belongings, Beth discovers a picture of Max with a pregnant woman during WWII. This woman is Metta, not Beth’s mother. Beth is desperate to unravel these family secrets before her father dies. Does she have a sibling she doesn’t know about?

Runyan tries some new things in this book. She interweaves three storylines, one from the 21st century, and creates a more complicated narrative, including one from a male perspective. The two sections from World War II are the most compelling, and Runyan creates a vivid sense of time and place, making the reader feel like they are in a German forest with Max and Metta, their tragic love story occurring amidst the guns and bombs of war. The narrative with Beth is less compelling, and within this contemporary section Runyan makes some convenient choices that are not realistic. But overall, this is a page-turner that delves into the power of love during war and the discovery of long-buried family secrets.