The Last of the Seven: A Novel of World War II

Written by Steven Hartov
Review by Peggy Kurkowski

Every now and then in the glutted genre of World War II thrillers, a book opens to reveal a literary pearl within. Such is the case with The Last of the Seven by Steven Hartov, a moving tale of a young German Jew, Bernard Froelich, haunted by his parents’ deaths and his sister’s disappearance at the hands of the Nazis, who seeks vengeance as an agent for the British Special Interrogation Group (SIG).

In spring of 1943, his undercover operation in North Africa goes awry and, as the lone survivor, he escapes a POW camp wearing the uniform of a German soldier. Badly wounded, he treks across the merciless desert into a British military outpost, pleading his identity as an SIG operative, which eventually sets him on an Odysseus-like journey to an Allied field hospital in Agrigento, Sicily. During his recuperation in The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Froelich befriends a gregarious wounded soldier and finds in Sofia, the physically disabled Sicilian “ice girl,” an emotional oasis for his own damaged body and soul.

Despite his recent injuries, Froelich learns the British Army are not done with his services just yet: he is approached to join the real-life “X Troop,” a British commando unit consisting entirely of German and Austrian Jews, who are training nearby for a top-secret mission. Tempted by hopes of a different future with Sofia, Froelich knows his destiny too well and ultimately assumes command of the rag-tag unit of diversely talented soldiers, drilling them and himself to exhaustion under the harsh gaze of the ostensibly anti-Semitic Major Nigel Butler.

Lyrical and dreamy, The Last of the Seven is a deeply felt exploration of love, hope, and forgiveness that also begs for a sequel as Lt. Froelich and X Troop embark on the most dangerous mission of their lives.