In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and instigated a war that engulfed the globe. Hear My Voice, out June 13th from Jantar Press, tracks the years directly preceding the invasion, but as reviewer Seth Rogoff notes, “it does so from an interesting perspective… the beginning of large-scale broadcast radio.” Hear My Voice comes at a time when right-wing populism is again on the rise, and it examines the dissemination of propaganda through a new and popular medium.
In David Vaughan’s Hear My Voice, a young (Czech- and German-speaking) man travels from England to Prague to interpret for the British politician Edgar Young. The man, the novel’s narrator, arrives in Prague at the end of 1937 in the middle of the diplomatic crisis between Czechoslovakia and Nazi Germany about the status of the border region known as the Sudetenland. When the narrator arrives, the crisis has drastically intensified because of the Anschluss, or unification, of Nazi Germany with Austria. The novel’s plot traces the political developments of 1938 as Nazi pressure on Czechoslovakia increases and the allied powers—England and France—back down in the face of Hitler’s demands, isolating and ultimately dooming the Czechoslovak state. The novel reaches its climax with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s visit to Munich, where, the prime minister believes, he has secured lasting European peace by assuaging Hitler’s lust for land and power. The novel’s narrator, like the reader, knows better—it is just the beginning of the horror.
While Hear My Voice moves over well-traveled historical ground, it does so from an interesting perspective—that of the beginning of large-scale broadcast radio. The narrator is a fly-on-the-wall as he is dispatched as an interpreter with radio journalists to cover the year’s events. This story of the emergence of radio as a source of knowledge and as a tool of propaganda is compelling—both narratively and media-historically. As the situation in the Sudetenland deteriorates, Vaughan has the German-speaking communist Gustav Beuer tell the narrator, “… the broadcasts from the Reich, they are infecting hundreds and thousands of people every day. Radio has turned them into fanatics…” After listing to Hitler’s speech at the Nuremburg party rally, the narrator reflects, “Radio had played an awful role at that moment. Like an angry god, Hitler had used radio to cast rods of hatred through the ether.” After the speech, the narrator encounters a woman whose sons have fled the Sudetenland into Germany, most likely in preparation to fight on the Nazi side. The narrator notices that the “radio was covered with a cloth that for a moment reminded me of a shroud.”