The Verdun Affair

A Novel

The Verdun Affair

A sweeping, romantic, and profoundly moving novel, set in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and Los Angeles in the 1950s, about a lonely young man, a beautiful widow, and the amnesiac soldier whose puzzling case binds them together even as it tears them apart.

In 1921, two young Americans meet in Verdun, the city in France where one of the most devastating battles of the war was waged. Tom is an orphan from Chicago, a former ambulance driver now gathering bones from the battlefield; Sarah is an expatriate from Boston searching for the husband who wandered off from his division and hasn’t been seen since. Quickly, the two fall into a complicated affair against the ghostly backdrop of the ruined city. Months later, Sarah and Tom meet again at the psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital, drawn there by the appearance of a mysterious patient the doctors call Douglas Fairbanks (after the silent film actor)—a shell-shocked soldier with no memory of who he is. At the hospital, Tom and Sarah are joined by Paul, an Austrian journalist with his own interest in the amnesiac.

Each is keeping a secret; each has been shaken by the horrors of war. Decades later, Tom, now a successful screenwriter, encounters Paul by chance in LA, still grappling with the questions raised by this gorgeous and incisive novel: How to begin again after unfathomable trauma? How to love after so much loss? And who, in the end, was Douglas Fairbanks?

From the bone-strewn fields of Verdun to the bombed-out cafés of Paris, from the riot-torn streets of Bologna to the riotous parties of 1950s Hollywood, The Verdun Affair is a riveting tale of romance, grief, and the far-reaching consequences of a single lie.
  • Scribner | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781982100742 | 
  • June 2018
List Price $24.99 (price may vary by retailer)

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Verdun Affair includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In this heartbreaking exploration of love, secrecy, and the lingering effects of war, a romance between two young Americans in Europe in 1921 has unexpected and devastating consequences. Tom and Sarah meet in Verdun, France, where he works in an ossuary and she searches for news of her husband, gone missing during the war. Her search takes them from Verdun to Bologna, Italy, where they encounter Paul, an Austrian journalist, in an Italian hospital—all three drawn there by a shell-shocked patient with no memory of who he is, who they call Douglas Fairbanks. Decades later, Tom and Paul meet again in Los Angeles, where Tom is working as a screenwriter. As they turn over their shared history, the two men struggle once more with the mystery at the heart of their experiences with World War I, with Sarah, and most of all with Douglas Fairbanks. A gorgeous, devastating narrative of desire and loss, The Verdun Affair is a deeply moving meditation on what matters most in a world gone mad.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. At the beginning of see more

About the Author

Nick Dybek
Photograph by Melissa Blackall

Nick Dybek

Nick Dybek is a recipient of a Granta New Voices selection, a Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and a Maytag Fellowship. He received a BA from the University of Michigan and an MFA from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He teaches at Oregon State University. He is the author of When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man and The Verdun Affair.