"The End of War" is a compelling dramatization of the fall of Berlin.
Better than History Start reading "The End of War" by Richmond novelist David L. Robbins (Bantam Books, $24.95) and you'll wish you were on vacation so you could read on right through to the end without a break. And a supremely satisfying end it is, too.
The title of Robbins' latest is not to be taken literally, as his characters make clear, because there is no end to war. One stops, and another begins.
But it is about the end of one part of one war the fall of Berlin in 1945. "The End of War" is written history of the most readable kind, fictionalized, yet authentic, and told in a way that keeps the reader compulsively turning page after page even though the broader conclusion is foregone.
Robbins' means of telling his story is classic. He invents three characters through whose experiences he presents the final efforts to take Germany's ravaged capital, and, based on meticulous research, he imagines the lives and motivations of the three world leaders whose forces are aimed relentlessly at Germany's heart.
His fictional characters are ordinary people. Lotti is a gifted cellist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, a woman with little thought for anything beyond her music. Nevertheless, she is deeply angered when she discovers her mother is harboring one of Berlin's few remaining Jews in her basement. Through her, Robbins sketches the daily reality of living in a doomed city.
Ilya is a Russian soldier, a single-minded killer who is slow to realize that he fights not for the end of this war, but for the end of all wars. But his most worthy enemy, he eventually realizes, is his own conscience.
Bandy is a magazine photographer from a Virginia tobacco farm who maneuvers relentlessly to circumscribe war through the lens of his Leica. He believes that he does nothing more than dispassionately depict the truth of combat, but what he sees on the way to Berlin turns him from photojournalist to participant.
The three political figures who dramatize for Robbins the broader implications of the war are Joseph Stalin, cunning and ruthless as he envisions postwar domination; Winston Churchill, brilliant in his capacity to augur the motives of his allies and beset by the implications of a Russian-controlled Berlin; and Franklin Roosevelt, whose health is declining fast, but whose final machinations will leave their mark on history for decades.
The true power of "The End of War" lies in the force it exerts on the reader's conscience. And with this book, Richmond's own Robbins takes his place among the ranks of today's first-rate American novelists.
In Brief: New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg is a wonderful storyteller. As he explains it: "I grew up at the knee of front-porch talkers, of people who could tell a story and make you believe you had been there, right there, in the path of the bullet or the train, in the warm arms of a new mother, in the teeth of a mean dog."
Bragg learned the storytelling skill well, and in "Somebody Told Me" (The University of Alabama Press, $24.95), a collection of some of his pieces written for the New York Times, he describes for us many of the events we know about from TV and newspapers. His beat is usually the South, and he takes us to his stories in a way that is difficult to forget. Through him we visit Osecola McCarty, who was a laundress for 87 years then gave her savings ($150,000) to the University of Mississippi for scholarships. We read three stories about George Wallace, but we also revisit the horrifying accounts of Susan Smith who drove her car into a lake, thus drowning her two children, then claimed they had been kidnapped by a black carjacker.
If you want to see a magical reporter at work, read "Somebody Told Me."
Heads-Up If Williamsburg is not on your regular beat, or if you are expecting sightseeing visitors, take a look at "Insiders Guide to Jamestown-Yorktown Williamsburg" by Susan Bruno and Cheryl J. Cease (Falcon Press $16.95). It lists restaurants, tours, hotels, wineries, kids' stuff and the other attractions such as Busch Gardens in the area.
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