Remembering Pegasus Falling by William Thomas.

 

Mike Harris, who published his grandfather's book, and William Thomas, who lived the story behind Pegasus Falling.
Mike Harris, who published his grandfather’s book, and William Thomas, who lived the story behind Pegasus Falling.

In summer of 2012, Stephen Woodfin and I posted dream interviews and dream reviews of the Top Five Finalists for the Indie Book of the Year, presented by the New Kindle Book Review. I wanted to go back and re-visit some of those authors in the indie field who are making a difference. Today, I am featuring Pegasus Falling by William Thomas.

THE STORY: Arnhem, 1944. Captain Stanley Adam Malcolm Parker – Sammy to his friends – and his platoon have fought bravely, but it was always a losing battle. The bridge was unwinnable. After he and his men are forced into cattle trucks and transported across Germany on a three day journey without food or water, Sammy lashes out at an SS officer with brutal and devastating consequences…for him and his German opponent.

Instead of spending the rest of his war as a POW, Sammy is sent to a concentration camp.

Spared an immediate death, Sammy discovers firsthand the full horror of the final solution. Amongst the desperation and destitution of the camp, he encounters Naomi, a Jewish housewife from Dresden. Having seen her family murdered, Naomi has learned to survive by making the most unimaginable of sacrifices. She is the woman who Sammy comes to depend on to survive himself.

But when the camp is finally liberated, the couple are separated and Sammy embarks on a journey across a continent devastated by war and wracked by ongoing tensions to find out what happened to the woman he loves.

William Thomas
William Thomas

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

William Edward Thomas was born in West London in 1925.

He left The Brompton Oratory School when he was 14 and started work as a messenger at the BBC. When war broke out, his mother insisted he left central London and went to work with his father at a factory in Harrow. While still a teenager, William joined the army and was soon recruited in to the parachute regiment. By the time peace had been declared in Europe in May 1945, he had been “dropped” in to a number of key battles and become a much decorated soldier. He was still only 19 years old.

Following the war, William served in Palestine until 1948.

He has always believed passionately that education leads to opportunity. He has studied part time for both a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree and was one of the first students to enrol with The Open University.

William has six children. As they were growing up, he was working and studying in shifts as a merchant seaman and an engineer, working his way from factory shop floor to management. In his mid fifties, he decided to work full time as a lab technician at his Alma Mater, The Open University and remained there until his retirement. It was during his retirement that he decided to set himself the challenge of writing a novel. The Cypress Branches is the result.

William’s health started deteriorating shortly after finishing The Cypress Branches and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. Shortly after the hardback book’s launch in the summer of 2009, his health deteriorated to the point where he could no longer live at home. He is now cared for at a home in central Milton Keynes where he is visited by his wife Sheila and family members daily.

PF-cover-MkIII-300THE REVIEW:

There are some books which will stay with you forever, and Pegasus Falling is one of those which I will find hard to forget. When I first read the Cypress Branches trilogy (of which Pegasus Falling is the first part) I instantly fell in love with it. It is a novel which has stayed with me for many many reasons.

This is a wonderful achievement by a man who obviously knows his craft extremely well, all the more astounding for being his first, and sadly his last, work. All at once, it manages to be an indictment of war, a lesson in Middle-East politics and history, a comedy, a tragedy…but at its heart it is a beautiful and emotional love story.

Within the pages of this one book, we witness a famous World War Two battle, the horrors of a concentration camp and the politically and emotionally charged post-war period in Palestine. These are huge subjects in themselves and could easily have proved too weighty for one book. But somehow Thomas manages to keep the novel well and truly centred on his characters, using the big settings to drive and shape the narrative perfectly. This is a book about ordinary people who find themselves, through design or fate, caught up in some of the world’s most devastating events. They are powerless to change the course of history, and yet they try, desperately and often in vain, to do good.

It is the characters who make this book a triumph. They are incredibly rich and it is a joy to get to know them. That’s not to say that all of them are easily likeable. Sammy, our protagonist, is not your average soldier. Sure enough, he demonstrates the bravado and violence which is routinely drilled in to paratroopers as part of their training and he also shows an inability to suffer fools gladly, whether they are fighting with him or against him. This stark and brutal side of his nature makes us wary of him at first. However, through his relationships with Naomi and Lesley we get to know another, gentler side to Sammy Parker, a side which allows him to show compassion and love even in the darkest hours of his life. The brutal warrior has a heart and I am sure that many readers will follow Naomi and Lesley’s lead and find themselves falling in love with him, despite their initial misgivings.

Despite the bleak background to the novel, there is, perhaps surprisingly, no shortage of humour. Thomas manages to imbue his characters with the ability to find a joke in every situation. From absurd situations obviously drawn from his own experiences in the parachute regiment (the scene in which Sammy has to mediate a dispute between an errant Private and the regiment’s doctor who wants him disciplined for “occasioning a self-inflicted injury” on a night out in Beirut is hilarious), to brilliant plays on words and silly throw aways, this is a book which will have you in tears in more ways than one.

There are no heroes and villains in this book, no winners or losers. The war in Europe may have been declared over in May of 1945, but in Thomas’s eyes the cessation of violence didn’t mean the end of the suffering, and it certainly didn’t usher in the new era of peace that many have painted the post war period as being.

Pegasus Falling is a truly epic novel that has a little bit of everything. It is a beautiful love story which will have you laughing and crying in equal measure and thoroughly deserves to grace the best sellers lists soon. It will also make you yearn for more. Thankfully, there are two more instalments of the trilogy to come, and I for one can not wait to get stuck in to the next one.

 

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