Sergei and Hans
Author: Dennis Santaniello
Sergei and Hans is an historical fiction novella set during World War I. Hans is a guard who specializes in shooting fence climbers at a prison camp and Sergei is a Russian prisoner. The main story involves Hans inviting Sergei up for a dinner and confronting him about a journal that he has found detailing the events leading up to Sergei’s capture as well as Sergei’s plans going forward.
I was interested to figure out the connection between the two men, and then also to find out the payoff. Obviously with this being a prison setting, the likely outcomes include escape or death. Santaniello nicely wraps up the story in a climactic moment that could go either way until the very end. I also thought it was nice that the story was World War I based; it seems like World War II gets 10 stories told for every one its predecessor got, which gave this a few more avenues it could take.
This story may have been better served via a play format. Most of the drama was internal, and aside from 2 or 3 characters that have little to no dialogue (most memorably a character only identified as “the old man”), the entire story is told from Sergei and Hans own perspectives. I also wonder if focusing the story on Sergei entirely, developing it more and then having Hans’s relationship to him become more of a reveal would have helped the story flow more. There were some times I had to get a few paragraphs into a chapter before I could determine if what I was reading was another flashback for Hans or the main storyline, as this section lacked the switch in perspective (first person vs third person) or style (italicized vs normal) that differentiated Sergei’s.