Is there anything more intriguing than learning about a little known but magnificent piece of history? In E.R. Ramzipoor’s epic debut novel based on a true story, The Ventriloquists (Park Row Books), courage and fortitude raise the middle finger to Hitler and the Third Reich.

Hitler had invaded Belgium three years prior. The Nazi regime had stolen the voice of the people—their words and thoughts. “The Nazis permitted artists to work their trade as long as their pens were dull, their canvases simple and muted.”

It is now October 1943. The director of the German Ministry of Perception Management, Gruppenführer August Wolff, devises a scheme to use members of the Front de l’ Independence resistance movement to create black propaganda for the Nazis. His objective: to publish the resistance newspaper, La Libre Belgique, as propaganda to brainwash Belgian citizens into believing the Allies are their enemy. It will be a Nazi “propaganda bomb.”

Wolff grants the group safety if they agree to write the propaganda version of La Libre Belgique in 20 days, death if they don’t. The group knows he will not spare them, regardless of their complicity.

But the group has its own secret agenda. In addition to writing La Libre Belgique, they will write a counter-campaign version, Faux Soir, which will include puns, jokes, satirical obituaries, and anything else to make fun of Hitler and the Nazis.

It is the belief of one of the resisters, former theater critic Marc Aubrion, that “If we can make light of the Nazis just for a day… it will remind people we’ve beaten them before.”

The story is narrated by one of the resistance group, relaying what happened over sixty years prior. It is written in a twenty-day countdown fashion, chronicling each member’s actions to write, publish, and distribute Faux Soir.

Many of the characters in The Ventriloquists are real, and even those fictionalized bear resemblances to real identities involved in the Faux Soir story. Ramzipoor portrays each patriot in intricate detail, giving us insight into their personal stories and motivations. The prose is beautiful and full, transporting readers to the streets of 1943 Belgium. We feel the fear caused by boots goose-stepping down the cobbled streets and the determination of those who refused to cower.

Ramzipoor meticulously researched the publication of Faux Soir for her university thesis on underground literature. The entire text of Faux Soir included in the book is real. She notes, “The Ventriloquists is based on a true story of people who realized the world was theirs, even if their country was not, who decided it was worth risking their lives for a joke that had never been told.”

This David and Goliath story is a testament to strength amid fear, love amid hate, and the need to protest human brutality and disrespect of life even at the expense of death. It is a testament that humanity continues with humor, grace, and empathy even through its most disgraceful moments.

Ramzipoor reminds us that selfless acts of heroes such as The Ventriloquists make the world a better place.

The Ventriloquists is now available for purchase.

 

About E.R. Ramzipoor

Evan Roxanna Ramzipoor is a writer based in California. She also works as a content marketer, writing about cybercrime and online fraud. She studied political science at UC Berkeley, where she researched underground literature in resistance movements and discovered the forgotten story of Faux Soir. Her writing has been featured in McSweeney’s and The Ventriloquists is her first novel. She lives with her partner and a terrier mix named Lada. She is never far from a notebook or a pair of running shoes.