I love historical fiction, and World War II is one of the subjects I especially enjoy reading about. Dancing with Air is a beautiful love story between Lenny, a marine stationed in London, and his girlfriend Natasha, a pianist who arrives to Europe to perform for the troops and to re-unite with Lenny. After one of her performances, Natasha tells Lenny about the grand piano that used to be in the lobby of the hotel but was destroyed during a bombing. Natasha says it was “fortunate” that the piano used to be there because people crawled under it, and the piano “saved their lives.” That detail immediately made the concept of war real to me. The romance between Lenny and Natasha is bittersweet both because of the tension of the war and because the story is a look back, years later, at the way Natasha used to be, before Alzheimer’s disease started slowly taking her away from Lenny.
The writing is beautiful and engaging, and even secondary characters are realistic and interesting. I loved Mrs. Babcock, the woman with whom Natasha is staying while in London. Mrs. Babcock is “prudent,” as evidenced by her dress made out of “industrial blackout cloth” and decorated with lace from “some old pillowcases.” Her image is both comical and appealing, as she invites Lenny in while they are waiting for Natasha. She chats with him easily, referring to him and Natasha as “lovebirds” and complaining about an overabundance of carrots and scarce supplies of other food. I found her interactions with Lenny humorous and a welcome respite from the tension of war around them. Probably, humor is how real people coped with the war.
Another secondary character I really liked was the fisherman whom Lenny and Natasha meet during their trip to the White Cliffs of Dover, foreshadowing Lenny’s next trip to the area, during D-Day. The conversation between the fisherman and the young couple is full of symbolism and foreshadowing. For example, he warns the couple of the dangers of the cliffs, “They can crumble anytime.” He goes on to discuss the significance of the area for England, going back to the times of Julius Caesar and naval battles of the past. With the fisherman’s help, their visit to the shore becomes “a strange rehearsal” of their future wedding. I loved the extended moment of their time together with the fisherman as they started a fire and cooked the fish. It was a very realistic description of one of those simple moments in life that we tend to remember forever. A wonderful book. Highly recommended.