The Chanticleer Review: 5 Stars for The Sower of Black Field!

“A picture emerges from this novel of people caught up in a conflict not of their making, resisting as they can from its evils, and finding strength in the courageous example of their pastor.” — FIVE STARS, Chanticleer Book Reviews

The Sower of Black Field is making its rounds in book reviews, and I’m delighted by the one I received from Chanticleer. This review does an excellent job of capturing the major themes and players—including NSV (Nazi welfare) director Wilhelm Seiz, a deeply complicated character who serves as the catalyst of the story. The dramatic third act focuses on the atrocity and the 48-hour ultimatum, yet I don’t consider this book a Holocaust novel. Rather, it is a faith story that ends with a dark, gritty episode of the Holocaust. I’m gratified to see this resonating with reviewers.

Read below for the full text, or click to see it on Chanticleer’s website »

In The Sower of Black Field, Katherine Koch’s historical fiction novel, Father Viktor Koch—a 67-year-old Catholic priest—presides over a monastery in a small German village, as the Nazi regime sweeps through the country. The time is April, 1941. Fr. Viktor’s order, the U.S.-based Passionists, built the monastery eight years prior, providing employment for most of the villagers and remaining a symbol of their faith.

Fr. Viktor has lived in Europe for over 20 years, but balances his love of Germany, its land, its mysticism, with his American roots. He will need all his personal and religious resources over the next four years as the Nazis take hold in the village and, later, the Americans come to “de-Nazify” the town and hold its people responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust.

The village is far more Catholic than Nazi, even as the regime does its best to turn its citizens away from their faith.

They take over the monastery despite Fr. Viktor’s strenuous efforts to hold onto it. Their next major push is to remove crosses from the schools. That measure is met with a petition from the villagers, a move that threatens to land them in prison.

We get to meet several villagers who personify the conflict between their way of life and Nazi fanaticism.

Norbert and his wife and family run the local bakery, a central food supply to the villagers. His anti-Nazi stance threatens his life as well as destroying this important community resource. Helene, a woman who lost her husband who served in Hitler’s army, will do anything to protect her two sons from their forced enrollment in the Nazi youth corps.

Klaus, her oldest son, endures his militarist, cult-like corps training. Hans, the youngest, remains true to his Catholic faith. This look into the indoctrination of Germany’s children remains one of the most powerful aspects of this novel.

Among the Nazis, the party official Seiz becomes the lens through which we see even the most dedicated member recoil when he finds out first-hand the horror of the Holocaust— as it reaches deep into the village in a horrifying, unexpected way.

Faith in God, and the testing of that faith, is interwoven throughout the novel.

As Nazi horrors close in on the village, the heavily religious community finds itself questioning how a just and merciful God can allow these acts to happen. Even Fr. Viktor must dig deeply into his faith to answer the unknowable “framework” of God’s plan.

When the war nears its end, the town becomes flooded with refugees from other parts of Germany. Stories of Russian atrocities and rumors of American “gangsters” flood the small, outlying town. When liberty finally comes, the conquerors impose their own set of rigors on the people, further testing the faith of adults and children alike. Fr. Viktor is stressed to his limit as he becomes the village’s voice.

The Sower of Black Field shows us everyday Germans as peace-loving people of faith trying to survive during WWII, a side of that terrible conflict not often shown. A picture emerges from this novel of people caught up in a conflict not of their making, resisting as they can from its evils, and finding strength in the courageous example of their pastor.

For an annotated, scholarly version of the history behind The Sower of Black Field, read my peer-reviewed paper, “An American Priest in Nazi Germany: The Story of Fr. Viktor Koch, C.P.,” published in the Fall 2014 issue of Gathered Fragments, the journal of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. You may also enjoy a visit to the project website, »