Traitor: A Novel of World War II

Written by Amanda McCrina
Review by G. J. Berger

In the summer of 1944, the Russian army occupies the Polish city of Lwow. There, the novel opens on seventeen-year-old Tolya, a half-Polish, half-Ukrainian soldier in the Soviet Army. He has just shot and killed his own unit’s political officer and must flee. A squad of the still intact Ukrainian insurgent army finds and rescues him. Tolya, an expert rifle shooter, has value to multiple sides.

McCrina then skips back to 1941, as the same city prepares for the German invasion days away. Young Ukrainian Aleksey plots to free his father from the city’s main prison before the Germans arrive and slaughter or cart off all inmates. Alternating sections jump back and forth between Aleksey in 1941 and Tolya in 1944.

Both Ukraine and Poland have their own resistance fighters. The Germans and Russians each embed secret police into the general population, often using Polish and Ukrainian recruits. Blood enemies become allies for convenience or safety but then betray each other. Tolya and Aleksey trust no one. Their days and nights are filled with physical and psychological torture. Each is seriously wounded but must flee cold killers. They scrounge for food, medicine and weapons. Here and there, brutality is flecked with human kindness.

The plot of this YA novel can be summed up in one word: survival. The slices of life in those gruesome times, spawned by the unforgiving nationalism of Germans, Russians, Poles and Ukrainians, all ring true. Two maps and a glossary describe pertinent organizations and the characters. They help readers understand the many foreign names, shifting allegiances, and organizations in this interesting study of a little-known but terrifying and complex conflict.