A historical novel that tracks the perilous journey of a Ukrainian Jew from war-torn Europe to the United States.
Abraham “Abie” Ashansky fled the Ukraine in 1914 in order to avoid conscription into the czar’s army—he used his marriage dowry to make his way to the United States. But once the United States enters World War I, he decides to enlist, and now he finds himself back in Europe, in the thick of it all. Abie trained as a lawyer in the Ukraine, and he’s fluent in French, Russian, and Ukrainian. He’s recruited into a special intelligence unit under the command of Brig. Gen. Dennis Nolan, who’s legendary for helping to create the first organized Army intelligence-gathering unit. Abie distinguishes himself in the Battle of Apremont, and he’s assigned to a French soldier, Commandant Xavier Roche, to assist a French expedition to the Ukraine as a translator. Abie is given a temporary reserve commission and promoted to second lieutenant. His ultimate intention is to track down fiancee Rachel and bring her to the United States. Later, Abie becomes a law clerk and is pulled into a controversial murder case that ignites widespread suspicion of communist sympathizers. Semple (Black Tom: Terror on the Hudson, 2015, etc.) arrestingly captures the wide-reaching ramifications of World War I as a global catastrophe. Abie is a memorably drawn character, and his story offers a fascinating portal into the conflict from the cosmopolitan perspective of an Eastern European Jew. However, the main story is freighted with too many subplots and far too many supporting characters. The long account of Abie and Rachel’s wedding, for example, and the exhaustive background of Emory Jackson, the defendant in the aforementioned murder case, are superfluous detours, and the latter adds significantly to the novel’s length. Also, the dramatic tension peters out after Abie returns to the United States, providing a long, anticlimactic conclusion.
A historically rich account of the first world war that unfortunately runs out of steam long before it ends.