Brother's Blood

Brother's Blood

4.3 3
by Michael C. White
     
 

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This extraordinarily engrossing literary mystery exposes a little-known chapter of twentieth-century history - the detention of nearly 400,000 German prisoners of war in the U.S. during World War II. The landscape of rural Maine provided a surreal sort of shelter for these most reviled casualties during the war. While many prisoners served their time peacefully enough… See more details below

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Overview

This extraordinarily engrossing literary mystery exposes a little-known chapter of twentieth-century history - the detention of nearly 400,000 German prisoners of war in the U.S. during World War II. The landscape of rural Maine provided a surreal sort of shelter for these most reviled casualties during the war. While many prisoners served their time peacefully enough, some escaped and others - like the brother of Wolfgang Kallick - were simply reported to have died. A Brother's Blood commences decades after the war, with Wolfgang Kallick's arrival in America to learn the details of his brother Dieter's death. When he discovers that Dieter escaped from the camp and was found dead months later, he vows to find out how his brother died. Libby, a flinty local woman who grew up during the war, is drawn into the drama, only to find that her family is implicated. After her brother is slain, Libby undertakes her own quest for solutions to both deaths - suspecting they are somehow related - and exposes a darkness beyond her imagining.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
A stark, stunningly well written first novel.
Denver Post
[White's] strength lies in his characters and his use of language to evoke the dark woods of rural Maine and the even darker lives of the people who spent the war years there. Readers of Guterson's work will probably find White's equally reqwarding.
Wallace Stegner
Even without a buried crime to exhume, this novel would be fascinating....Michael White is a writer to watch.
Kirkus Reviews
An earnest first novel from anthologist/storyteller White (American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Stories by Emerging Writers, Vols. I-IV) that's rooted firmly in the frontier between mystery and mainstream fiction.

Desert Storm is in the headlines when Wolfgang Kallick comes from Erfurt to Moosehead Lake, Maine, to find out what happened to his brother Dieter in that other war 45 years ago. The official story is that Dieter, a POW who'd been shipped to the Sheshuncook logging camp, drowned following an escape attempt two months before V-E Day. But Wolfgang has heard rumors that his brother's body had unexplained head wounds, and now he wants to put the case to rest. In upstate Maine, whose denizens hardly talk to neighbors they've known for years, everyone gives Wolfgang the cold shoulder—even old Libby Pelletier, the Country Kitchen owner who'd be more sympathetic if she weren't preoccupied with problems of her own. Libby's been the matriarch of her family since her mother ran off back in 1943, leaving behind her brusquely unsympathetic husband Ambroise and two scared teenagers, Libby and her kid brother Leon. Now Leon, exhausted from his latest bout of d.t.'s, is home from the hospital, and Libby has her hands full, especially when he tells her not to have anything to do with the Kraut. Shortly after, though, Leon himself is found frozen to death, and Libby, frazzled by the obligatory threatening phone calls, the attack on her dog, and the repeated flashbacks to 1945 that engulf her, finally agrees to talk to Wolfgang Kallick—only to find him too another accident victim soon after. With her own brother's blood as well as Wolfgang's crying out for revenge, Libby goes on the offensive, though the revelation she flushes out will surprise only newcomers to the Buried Secret subgenre.

The mystery plot is tired and slack, but White's lovely way with Libby's cracked voice may well win his share of crossover readers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060928599
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/15/1997
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
5.33(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

 

2 July 44: In camp two weeks already but so exhausted have not been much inclined to record thoughts. At night, crawl into bed and sleep like a rock. Close my eyes and next thing they are herding us into trucks and taking us into the woods again. All in all, should not complain. Must remind myself of horrid conditions in Mateur. Poor sanitation, cramped quarters, the freezing nights and blistering hot days. Not to mention the scorpions and sand storms. And that, of course, nothing compared to what it must be like for my dear old friend Bruno Ruppe, taken with von Paulus. We hear the most terrible rumors of what goes on in the East.

Arrived here after a long train ride from Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., where our ship put in. Last seventy-five kilometers rode by army truck over logging roads to what must be the most remote spot on earth. America! A place as vast as the deserts of North Africa. But instead of sand and camelthorn, endless mountains and lakes and forests stretch to the horizon. Skies the most delicate blue, perfect as Dresden china, and no planes fly overhead. Before leaving camp in Africa, some Luftwaffe fellows said States had been heavily bombed and only a matter of time before the Amis sued for peace. Utter nonsense! Quiet and peaceful here as if there were no war going on at all. Reminds one of the Oberhof, only mountains are more wooded and desolate. Nights quiet, like they could be in the desert. Hear mosquitoes buzzing over our heads and the metallic drumming of crickets in the night. Men snoring or talking in their sleep, or relieving their loneliness in the close, stuffy darkness of our barracks.

5 July 44: Last night heardexplosions. Sounded like small arms fire coming from just beyond fence. Several men hit the deck, and a rumor (we live by rumors here!) quickly spread through camp the Amis were executing some of us. Supposedly in retaliation for something that had happened in the war. Only later did we learn it was their Freedom Day—just the fireworks of the village children.

Amis treat us firmly but fairly, not at all as we had feared. In fact, some are quite friendly. One guard shared a box of homemade cookies sent to him from his family. CO a Major Ryker. Slight man with large ears and wire-rim spectacles. Looks more like a bookkeeper than an officer. First day in camp gave us a lecture on hygiene. Seemed more concerned about an outbreak of lice than an outbreak of men. As camp showers are not in working order yet, has allowed us to bathe in nearby lake. A Strandbad only three hundred meters down the road where we go for a swim. Water frigid. Five minutes in and your body turns numb. But good to bathe after the many weeks it took getting here.

Camp an old logging supply farm. A large barn has been converted into barracks which house about 200 of us, as well as a few Czechs. Can still smell the sharp animal odor, though not really unpleasant. Makes me think of Grandfather's, where Wolfie and I used to visit as children. Next door is the kitchen and mess hall. Beyond that the maintenance shop and garage, the infirmary, then double rows of barbed wire. In each corner are guard towers manned by soldiers with submachine guns. Most of the time, however, they are sitting with their noses in magazines and couldn't care less about us. Ami enlisted men housed in barracks near canteen, while officers live in separate building towards the lake. At night we sometimes hear their Victrolas playing music. American Negro music, this fast, brassy sort that shakes the night. Makes me think of the Blue Swan, that cabaret Mariam and I used to go to in Leipzig before the war.

Food trucked in each day and not bad at all. Several times a week we have meat—real meat, not the Alter Mann beef tins we had in Africa. Lagerf�hrer Heydt and Obergefreiter Badsteubner, a cook before the war, went to CO to ask if we could prepare our own meals and were granted request. Young Gunter Schessl, a gunner from my tank crew, helps Badsteubner over in the kitchen. Now we have Bauernseufzer and Kl”sse and Pfannkuchen. Even fatback sandwiches on dark bread for lunch in the woods.

Lights in our barracks have gone off again, fourth time tonight. Camp generator still not working correctly. So am finishing this by candlelight. Have just heard the sad cry of a bird somewhere out on the lake. Like a human voice really. Poor thing sounds as lonely as I feel. Makes me think of lines from Goethe:

Who never spent the darksome hours

Weeping and watching for the morrow . . .

8 July 44: Take our noon meal right in the woods, sitting beside the Amis. Quite a sight—captors and captives breaking bread. Sometimes hard to imagine under different circumstances they could stick a bayonet in your gut. Woods have made us brothers of sorts. One guard named Lazzari, from New York City. Friendly, always joking with prisoners and forever trying to barter cigarettes for German souvenirs. Today, Wattenberg working next to me in the woods. He's career Wehrmacht, from an old Prussian family, but not a bad egg. Been a POW since Agedabia in '41 and has had time to mellow. He pointed at Lazzari, who was urinating against a tree, and said, "Dieter, do you think the American girls like such a puny schwanz?" We laughed out loud and Lazzari asked me what was so funny. After I translated for him he said, "You know what the problem with you damn krauts is?" "No," I said, playing straight man. "You're too goddamn worried about size—big guns, big bombs, big cocks. I never had any complaints from my old lady." Without missing a beat, Wattenberg joked, "Nor I." We all had a good laugh, most especially Lazzari. Everyone, that is, except for Feldwebel K, who had overheard us. He comes around checking to make sure we only make quota, don't give the Amis a drop of sweat more than we're obliged to. Red-faced swine thinks we shouldn't have anything to do with our captors. "We are still fighting for the Fatherland, Kallick," he has told me on several occasions. He makes out the work assignments. Cross him and you'll find yourself shoveling shit in the latrines. Or worse. A bloody nose or a few broken ribs. Or like that fellow in the camp in Mateur. Found the poor bastard hanging from the rafters, his hands tied behind his back. Called it suicide! He had gotten too friendly with the Tommies and paid the price.

9 July 44: Cutting wood is very hard work. Up at six for breakfast and in woods by seven-thirty. Blisters on both hands. Aching muscles. Worst thing a tiny insect called a black fly. Gott im Himmel! As bad as the flies in Benghazi. Have tried kerosene and pine pitch—even cologne! Yet the fresh air and vigorous work have done wonders, and being busy helps pass the time.

Am keeping this record of my captivity in my Tagebuch. For posterity—if there is one. Have decided to write in English both for the practice and to deter those I'd rather not have see it. Spies everywhere, looking for traitors to the Reich.

10 July 44: They have made me an interpreter for one of the American foremen, a rough-hewn woodsman if I ever saw one. Drives prisoners hard and doesn't hide fact he doubts he can turn us into good workers. Can't tell if he hates us or just our inability to learn forestry. Uses one of our own, Oswald Grutzmacher, to get us to do his bidding. Grutzmacher had some previous logging experience on his family's farm in Bavaria. Like the American foreman, he abuses the men and treats them with contempt. Grumbling in camp about his being so cooperative with the Amis. One thing to follow orders, quite another to do it so willingly.

Have to admit, some of our men, especially those from the cities, were quite unfamiliar with axes and saws. A few were even afraid of Indians hiding in the woods. One youth, a former Jugend member with peach fuzz still on his chin, who'd been captured after only a week in the Korps, said that is what he'd learned about America from Karl May's books. Indians! Did we believe they had only horses and six-guns with which to fight our Panzers? Like those brave and foolhardy Poles who used cavalry charges against our Mark III tanks. Of course to say such a thing here is unwise. Wattenberg is always warning me, "Dieter, you have to be more careful." Even here it's the Lagergestapo, that pig K and his bunch of thugs, that's really in charge. Yet if all are too timid to speak out, what will it all have been for?

16 July 44: After breakfast went to church service this morning. Chaplain an Ami officer. Tall man with a high bony forehead. Speaks only a little German so has me translating for him. Directs all his words to me, not to the congregation. Gave a sermon on vengeance. From Judges, told the story of Samson avenging himself on the Philistines. "And he found a new jawbone of an ass and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith." Pointed his finger at me and said this was what was happening to Germany now. "You are the Philistines and the invading Allies the Samsons wielding a mighty jawbone." Said we still had a chance to repent, to cast off the sins of the Fatherland and become righteous. Right in the middle of his sermon, D, one of K's bunch, farted loudly. Everyone laughed and the chaplain became enraged. Called us—me—Satan's ministers and said God would wreak a terrible vengeance on us.

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