RIDER ON THE WIND by David Westheimer


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The Jewish/Zionist consciousness-raising of US aerial navigator Michael ""Tex"" Harris--who, stationed in 1942 Palestine, falls in love with Hannah Rub, a Germanborn member of the anti-British Palmach underground. Harris, part of the 108th Bombardment Group, periodically flies off--with first pilot Wagstaff and co-pilot Gallegiy--in a four-engine B-24D Liberator called Blonde Job; their bombing assaults on Rommel's supply lines (in Tobruk, Crete, Greece) are authentically sketched, with navigational detail; and there's a small subplot involving the increasing shakiness of first pilot Wagstaff--tormented by crash-dreams, freezing up at the controls, eventually dying in combat. But the primary narrative interest here is Harris' slow, sexy courtship of Hannah, whom he meets when a few of the US flyers (revolted by the British Army food) start taking their meals at a nearby Jewish boardinghouse. At first she's firmly stand-offish, suspicious of Harris--his unlikely Jewishness, his alliance with the hated British, his fairly macho approach to women. Eventually, however, as Harris softens his seduction, the affair progresses: a trip to Haifa (where Hannah engages in some weapon-smuggling); the wary affection of Hannah's old Tante Frieda; and a long-delayed hotel-room consummation, with Harris fully aware that virgin Hannah is ""no ordinary shack job."" Happy ending, then? Not at all, unfortunately--because Hannah, while responding Warmly to Harris' marriage proposal, expects him to stay with her and the Eretz Israel cause in Palestine; Hattis angrily refuses, going off for some R-and-R in Beirut. (""We're not gonna spend the rest of our lives in this dinky little town a thousand miles from nowhere. Belng goddam fieldhands."") And by the time he returns, hoping for a reconciliation, Hannah is dead, killed in Haifa by an English sentry's bullet--so he now vows to join the Zionists as soon as the war is over: ""What they were doing here. . . was more important than anything he could ever do back home."" Too aeronautical for romance-fans, too sentimental for much of the military-action readership--but Westheimer (Von Ryan's Express) delivers both halves of this likable hybrid with low-key assurance, texturing a familiar, obvious outline with warm people and intriguing backgrounds.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Walker