First fiction from a bestselling Middle East historian: a story, based in part on his father’s WWII reminiscences, of an army reunion commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
Oren (Six Days of War, 2002, etc.) takes us along with the remnants of the 133rd Infantry Battalion, who meet up in the tiny Belgian village of St.-Vith to catch up on what they’ve been doing since the Ardennes offensive of 1944. Like most army units, the 133rd is a mixed bag. There’s Colonel Rifesnider, a blueblood preppie who served as headmaster at several tony prep schools after the war until his fondness for young boys became too blatant. Major Walker, who ran most of the daily operations of the unit, was a wild Texas rancher who became an even wilder Texas oilman after he inherited his Daddy’s spread and struck it rich in the 1950s. Lieutenant Hill was a no-nonsense officer who settled quietly into life as a bank manager in Iowa, while Corporal Perlmutter, the company clerk, went on to become a respected historian. Most have put the war far behind them, but for some it is the wound that never heals. Francis Spagnola, racked with guilt over his cowardice under fire, still attends weekly sessions of a veterans support group, while the stolid Wisconsin stonecutter Pieter Martinson continues to dream of the girl he forsook 50 years ago out of shame over his battle-fatigue discharge. More than a few ghosts are put to rest by story’s end—and several new skeletons exhumed from their closets. What kind of scheme, for example, was Rifesnider running with Perlmutter when the two stayed on after the hostilities to locate the corpses of American MIAs—corpses that were never officially found, though people claimed to have seen them? And what exactly has the town butcher (who served as a local errand boy for Rifesnider) got hidden in his cellar?
A standard cast-of-characters tale, formulaic but decently done.