“Anschluss” was regarded by many readers as one of Boyle’s best stories about the effects of the rise of Nazism before World War II. Boyle’s so-called war stories never take place on the battlefield. Instead, she shows how individuals’ lives are touched by the events leading up to and during the larger conflicts. The characters are usually civilians, but some are military personnel caught by Boyle’s observant eye away from the war front.
The heroine of “Anschluss” is a young woman named Merrill who works in Paris as an assistant to a fashion editor. Twice a year, Merrill takes a trip to her favorite vacation place, the village of Brenau in the mountains of Austria. The time is the 1930’s. Boyle draws a sharp contrast between the trivialities of Merrill’s life in Paris and the desperate straits of her two Austrian friends, Fanni and her brother Toni. Because of worldwide Depression, the two young Austrians are struggling to survive in a place where there are only occasional small jobs and little money.
Merrill remembers meeting Fanni on her first visit, two years before, in 1936. Her brother Toni had been arrested for engaging in political activities deemed treasonous. On this night, Fanni is celebrating Toni’s release from jail. His appearance at the guest house marks the beginning of Merrill’s romance, in which she abandons herself to the casual, careless life of the young Austrians, who manage to enjoy themselves despite their poverty and the uncertainty of their future, “as if they all knew that something else was going to happen in a little while.” Merrill tries to persuade Toni to return with her to Paris, but he refuses, saying that he belongs in his own country.
In 1938, the Anschluss (Germany’s annexation of Austria) takes place, and Merrill, returning to Brenau, expects that Toni is still rebelling and agitating. However, the change that has taken place in Austria has changed Toni as well. He now has a real job, as director of the Austrian Youth Local. When Merrill goes to the lake where Toni is the sports organizer, she feels awkward and self-conscious in her two-piece bathing suit, as she is surrounded by large, plainly dressed Germans on vacation, the “invading cohorts,” as Boyle calls them. Toni criticizes Merrill for looking like an actress in a musical comedy. Clearly, he has changed. His carefree manner has disappeared, and he speaks gratefully of the Germans, who respect the Austrians. He sees no irony in the fact that the Germans regard Austria as a vacation ground, just as the bitterly resented Americans and English had formerly done.
The next day, Merrill sees Toni for the last time. At the train station, he is on the platform with several other young people in uniform. She is on the train; through the window, she sees him step toward her as if to speak, but instead he clicks his heels together and lifts his hands in a salute. She cannot tell whether he is saying “Heil Hitler” or wishing her farewell.
It is characteristic of Boyle that she draws no morals in this story, nor does she point out the obvious concerning Fanni and Toni’s acceptance of the Nazis. The bleak, simple ending is also typical of Boyle’s style; having presented three appealing young characters and their situations in vivid, concise terms, she knows when to stop.
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