In this debut historical novel, a young German Jew flees his homeland before World War II and is later drafted into the U.S. Army, serving closely under the legendary Gen. George S. Patton.
Lang-Slattery effectively mines family history to create a solid work of historical fiction from her uncle’s real-life derring-do. Herman Lang is a teenager when he witnesses Kristallnacht firsthand; he watches Nazi storm troopers drag his neighbors into the street and detain the men. Endangered by his Jewish heritage, Lang’s mother forces him to hide until she arranges for safe passage to England and then America. He travels to California, where a lucky hitchhiking ride lands him a job as a busboy at a nightclub in a posh Los Angeles hotel. But when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Lang is drafted. Frustrated and bored in a stateside post, he writes directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking that his fluent German be put to use in the coming invasion. Throughout, the author peppers the novel with Lang’s lively correspondence. Mysteriously, Lang receives classified orders and travels to Camp Ritchie, a secluded Maryland base where the mostly immigrant soldiers are trained to collect intelligence by studying German, map reading, field observation and interrogation techniques. The last finally gets him to the European theater, where he interrogates German prisoners for Patton’s Third Army. On his way back from the front one day, he meets the general himself and eventually becomes one of his loyal go-to men. Readers may get little sense of the story heading anywhere specific, and the novel lacks an effective climax. However, Lang-Slattery still has great source material here. In the sunny glamour of the book’s California passages, she effectively evokes the young immigrant’s overflowing hope as he rides down a boulevard “lined with palm trees and Spanish-style stucco buildings painted white, tan, light green, and pale pink, their tile roofs glowing red and their arched entranceways offering a peek beyond to lush gardens and hidden patios.” Overall, her uncle’s fictionalized adventures never fail to interest, whether he’s slipping behind the lines for Patton or simply attempting to romance the local girls.
An often engaging tale of one man’s involvement in the world’s most horrific war.