Natalya (Flight of the Night Witches)

Written by Heidi Vanlandingham
Review by Sally Zigmond

Natalya Volkov is a Russian pilot for the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment during the Second World War. When the bombers were close to their target, the pilots cut the engines so all that could be heard was the brushing sound of broomsticks. Hence, their nickname: Night Witches. When Natalya’s plane is shot down from the sky, she is brought back to life by the Norse God Freyja on the condition that she kills Hitler and destroys the Nazis.

Natalya’s childhood sweetheart, Mikhail Abramovitch, is a Romani Jew who has frightening moments of second sight. He escapes a Nazi prison camp and joins the French Resistance. When Natalya dies in his arms after her crash, he witnesses her “miraculous” recovery. While she is fulfilling her tasks, Mikhail must travel back to Stalingrad and deliver a magical crystal to the Soviet government. On his dangerous journey through war-torn Europe, he is assisted by a network of refugees through cellars, safe houses, and even sewers. He grows particularly fond of Adela and her little brother, Julek, who, like him, are Romani Jews seeking safety.

If any of the above is confusing, it’s the result of the novel’s narrative and structure. There are too many narrative strands and jumps in time and space. In all fiction, it is a fault to over-egg the pudding. I loved the more realistic elements of this novel and the way Mikhail loves and cares for the children he helps along his way. All in all, this novel would have benefited from a vigorous edit.