The Verdun Affair

A Novel

The Verdun Affair

Across a continent still reeling from World War I, a “ravishingly beautiful” (Paula McClain) story about a love affair between two Americans and the lie that changes everything.

France, 1921—Tom, a young American orphaned in World War I, is working at an ossuary in Verdun, helping priests comfort families seeking answers about their loved ones. But nothing in his past—not his rough-and-tumble Chicago childhood nor his experiences driving ambulances across French battlefields—can prepare Tom for the arrival of Sarah Hagen. From the moment he sees her, a young woman in a blue dress desperate for news of her missing husband, he knows he will help her in any way he can.

As their affair takes them across a fractured Europe, Tom and Sarah reckon with the ways extraordinary circumstances impact the lives of ordinary people. They eventually part but when news of an amnesiac soldier in Naples reaches Tom in Paris, he sets off, only to find Sarah there, hopeful as ever, along with an Austrian journalist named Paul who has his own agenda. Years later, a chance encounter with Paul forces Tom, now a screenwriter in Hollywood, to confront his past—and the woman he’s never been able to forget.

A page-turning, vividly imagined, and deeply romantic novel about love and identity, truth and consequences, The Verdun Affair is a “literary romance…[that] unravels a love triangle and its players’ secrets” (Los Angeles Times). It will transport you to another place and time while asking the question: Who are you in a world you no longer recognize?
  • Scribner | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501191787 | 
  • June 2018
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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.