Ralph J. Ehlinger

As long-time Wisconsin lawyer (CV available at www.ehlingeradvocates.com), I learned of the Los Indios village early in my practice and have spent years piecing together the fragmented history of its existence in order to create Charlie and Jenny and bring them to life. I am descended from four generations of Wisconsin loggers. My dad was raised in a logging camp. My grandpa could have been Charlie if he had not decided to stay in the north woods.  ...See more >


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"Ehlinger displays an extraordinary command of the historical period that includes the geopolitical and economic currents. Even more impressively, he supplies a sensitive but synoptic account of the internecine divisions within Cuba at the time that became battle lines--differing political, ideological, and racial allegiances so sharply drawn that violent conflict seemed inevitable. … His true authorial gift is characterization--it's rare one encounters a novel so well-populated with such richly drawn dramatic personae, a complex tale unburdened by lazily conceived caricatures"

Kirkus Reviews

BOOKS REVIEWED BY KIRKUS:

HISTORICAL FICTION
Page count: 531pp

In this epic debut novel, an ambitious American businessman operates in Cuba during some of its most volatile years. 

When Charles Booth is only 3 years old, his father dies in a forest fire that consumes the property he owns in Wisconsin. At the time, Charlie is living in Chicago with his pregnant mother. Twenty years later, compelled by a desire to better understand the father he never knew and against his mother’s wishes, Charlie travels to Wisconsin to claim what is left of his father’s real estate holdings. Despite lacking any experience, he makes an entrance into the lumber business—his father’s area of commercial expertise—and quickly becomes a shareholder and foreman for the Shanagolden Lumber Company. Charlie is both a quick learner and assiduous worker, and successful as a result, but he’s anxious to start his own business. The revolution in Cuba at the close of the 19th century and the American presence that fills the vacuum left by the expulsion of Spain present potentially lucrative opportunities for those investors with a stomach for risk. Charlie moves to Cuba with his wife, Jenny—she is a valuable partner because of her fluency in Spanish—and he buys land on the Isle of Pines, rich in pine trees. But Charlie eventually discovers that even with the American annexation of Cuba—and partly because of it—political instability threatens his business interests. Many see the arriving Americans as invaders more than liberators. In addition, his marriage is imperiled by the pain of prolonged absences from Jenny as well as her “gnawing jealousy” and suspicions that he has been unfaithful.

Ehlinger displays an extraordinary command of the historical period that includes the geopolitical and economic currents. Even more impressively, he supplies a sensitive but synoptic account of the internecine divisions within Cuba at the time that became battle lines—differing political, ideological, and racial allegiances so sharply drawn that violent conflict seemed inevitable. Both Charlie and Jenny are largely naive when they first land in Cuba; even late in the novel, he can confidently declare: “We came to save Cuba, save it from itself, and we are well along to accomplishing that.” If anything about Ehlinger’s rendering sounds a false note, it’s the painfully slow process of revelation for two characters otherwise depicted as not only worldly, but intellectually sober as well. While the author’s writing is always lucid, that reliable delivery of clarity is rarely accompanied by literary style; in fact, the bloodless lack of embellishment sometimes seems incongruent with the story’s high drama. His true authorial gift is characterization—it’s rare one encounters a novel so well-populated with such richly drawn dramatic personae, a complex tale unburdened by lazily conceived caricatures. But Ehlinger would have benefited from an expert editor—he lingers far too long on the minute details of this or that business transaction, and as a result the book is needlessly long (over 500 pages). In addition, the genuinely exciting drama is meted out too frugally, interrupted by distracting detours. 

A remarkable history of revolutionary Cuba that could have been shorter and more tightly developed. 

ADDITIONAL WORKS AVAILABLE:

SCANDAL'S ADVOCATE (Unpublished)
Legal Mystery

“Give no scandal.” The words have a hauntingly familiar ring. Jerry Mueller has not heard them in the thirty years since he left the seminary to become a lawyer. But when he threatens to sue the Catholic diocese for libel if it names his client as a pedophile, they are the first words that come out of the monsignor’s mouth. The Church is already awash in scandals of its own creation. How could proving the innocence of a priest falsely accused make it worse? As far as Jerry can recall, nothing in his seminary years ever alerted him to homosexuality, much less pedophilia, among the clergy. Although he has not formally left the Church, he has long been comfortable ignoring it, so he has viewed the disturbing disclosures with the objectivity of a trial lawyer trained to reserve judgment until the facts are known. But when an old classmate, now a priest, comes out of his past asking for help, he finds himself torn between loyalty to an old friend who swears he is innocent and trust in the judgment of an institution he once hoped to serve. Digging into his own past, and with the help of a gay priest, a courageous bishop, and an attractive divorcee with evidence that proves his case, Jerry uncovers a plot to destroy an innocent man with false accusations and suppressed findings, all in the name of the highest ecclesiastical authority, bent on hiding truths deemed far more damaging to the church—to give no scandal.