Monday, June 19, 2006

David L. Robbins, Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, 2005.

I am not normally a fan of historical fiction. There's quite a bit of decent stuff--I'll admit to a weakness for Rutherford, as I enjoyed Sarum and Russka, for example--but I've never been excited. Having said that, this novel is quite good. It was recommended to me by a friend of my parents, TH, largely because of issues of faith.

The central character is Rabbi Ben Kahn, attached to the 90th American division, just after D-Day. His son is MIA, after the B-17 he was flying was shot down. Rabbi Khan is himself a veteran of the 90th, from the first World War, and is appalled by the lack of leadership in his old division. He integrates himself into the division, and his interactions with the doughboys are fascinating--but more fascinating still is the depiction of the Rabbi's relationship with G-d, and with another (Baptist) chaplain.

The other vital character is Joe Amos Biggs, a driver in one of the logistics/support companies. After shooting down a fighter with the .50 calibre on his truck, his position within the company changes--and he develops an interesting relationship with a couple of French civilians, almost taking the role of Pharaoh when Abram and Sarai first visit Egypt (Genesis 12--a spoiler for this book, if you don't recall the story off the top of your head). Much of Joe's story is what life was like in the Red Ball Express.

The final important plot element is Chien Blanc--a deserter, a GI running in the Parisian black market--and especially his gasoline scams.

At any rate, the various stories link up eventually, plausibly but too neatly. It's an interesting story that just seems to resolve too nicely. It was a good book, and it was fascinating to read about the fighting in the bocage in Normandy from the perspective of the 90th, and watching the division grow from an embarrassment into one of the best combat divisions in the ETO. It was well-researched, and nothing felt overly didactic--but for me, as with much historical fiction, it just didn't quite click. A good book to borrow from the library, and not to own.