The Ventriloquists: A Novel

This story of journalism and resistance (544 pages) was published in August of 2019 by Park Row. The book takes you to WWII Brussels. Melissa read The Ventriloquists and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

buy is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.


The Ventriloquists

A Novel

E.R. Ramzipoor

World War II novels rarely have happy endings. But this triumphant mashup of heist story, workplace drama, war saga, and spy tale comes close. Populated with complex heroes and tension that ratchets up by the minute, it’s moving and — what alchemy is this? — fun to read.

Here’s the setup, a lesser-known true story from the Belgian resistance: It’s 1943. Brussels is occupied by the Nazis, and they’ve co-opted Le Soir, the country’s most popular paper, as a mouthpiece for their propaganda. A Nazi bigwig, appropriately named August Wolff, has been tasked with swaying public opinion against the Allies. He hunts down and captures a group of underground journalists and gives them an ultimatum: They will write anti-Allies propaganda for Le Soir, and in exchange, he won’t kill them immediately.

So far, so Nazi.

But then the mischief begins. Our ragtag group of writers, editors, and other rabblerousing types decide to fill the pages of their newspaper with satirical articles and photos that mock Hitler. Sure, these will probably be the last pieces they ever write, but their literary shenanigans will return power to the Belgians via the gift of laughter.

Our wily, cynical journalists effectively become double agents, appeasing Wolff and producing their own newspaper in record time. We follow their escapades — often dangerous, sometimes sweet, always exciting — as time ticks down and the tension ramps up.

The kicker? All of this is true. The Faux Soir was a real spoof newspaper published in occupied Belgium on 09 November 1943. It was produced by a faction of the Belgian resistance and written in a style that ridiculed German propaganda — and resulted in significant Nazi retribution. But it succeeded, too. This little paper that could became a lasting symbol of the resistance and bolstered the spirits of the Belgians.

E.R. Ramzipoor deftly blends real-life heroes with fictional characters. We meet a young orphan who’s a delightful agent of chaos; a charming, jaded journalist; a bordello madame and smuggler with a secret, and various other troublemakers who use their gifts for thinking and writing to fight the Nazis. They’re basically nerd spies, and it’s glorious.

A neat framing device also layers a mystery on top of the journalistic proceedings, adding another emotional facet to the already-moving story. When the end comes, it’s very satisfying and, as you’d expect, a bit bittersweet.

Aubrion tossed me a few coins. I unbundled a stack of Le Soir from the pile at my feet, handing him a copy. Handling fresh newspapers, still warm and wet from the mouth of the presses, is a holy thing. I felt this as I passed the papers to Aubrion, and I could see that he felt it too: he unfolded Le Soir with a hunger that bordered on indecency. — E.R. Ramzipoor

keep reading

A lot has changed since the days of William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and groundbreaking girl reporter Nellie Bly. But their dogged commitment to following the story endures because the truth still matters.
Extra, extra! Our new podcast episode is all about the colorful history, hard work, and high-stakes drama of journalism. Join us for must-read books that highlight the media pros and news stories that shape our world.
That moment when on a getaway to a not-your-hometown, and you stroll through the lobby to the reception desk of a hotel? It's so exhilarating. Luxurious or cozy, it's a thrill to take possession of that room key.

sharing is caring!

Wanna help us spread the word? If you like this page, please share with your friends.

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.

This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.
follow us

Content on this site is ©2024 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.