Far Bright Star

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Overview

The year is 1916. The enemy, Pancho Villa, is elusive. Terrain is unforgiving. Through the mountains and across the long dry stretches of Mexico, Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, leads an expedition of inexperienced horse soldiers on seemingly fruitless searches. Though he is seasoned at such missions, things go terribly wrong, and his patrol is suddenly at the mercy of an enemy intent on their destruction. After witnessing the demise of his troops, Napoleon is left by his ...

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Overview

The year is 1916. The enemy, Pancho Villa, is elusive. Terrain is unforgiving. Through the mountains and across the long dry stretches of Mexico, Napoleon Childs, an aging cavalryman, leads an expedition of inexperienced horse soldiers on seemingly fruitless searches. Though he is seasoned at such missions, things go terribly wrong, and his patrol is suddenly at the mercy of an enemy intent on their destruction. After witnessing the demise of his troops, Napoleon is left by his captors to die in the desert.

Through him we enter the conflicted mind of a warrior as he tries to survive against all odds, as he seeks to make sense of a lifetime of senseless wars and to reckon with the reasons a man would choose a life on the battlefield. Olmstead, an award-winning writer, has created a tightly wound novel that is as moving as it is terrifying.

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Editorial Reviews

The Dallas Morning News
"Tautly written and laced with tension . . . Riveting visual effects . . . Olmstead offers a sort of 'thinking-reader's' western . . . Verbal precision and historical accuracy combine with a poetic distillation of a tragic event presented in a solidly captivating reading experience that haunts the mind long after the final page is turned.” —The Dallas Morning News
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Gleaming, spellbinding fiction . . . Terrifying and abruptly beautiful, the new novel gleams with a masculine intensity; it is hard to read and hard to put down . . . i did succumb, yet again, to the strong spell of Olmstead’s storytelling."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Publishers Weekly

In his seventh novel, Olmstead (Coal Black Horse) delivers another richly characterized, tightly woven story of nature, inevitability and the human condition. In 1916, the aging Napoleon Childs assembles a cavalry to search for the elusive bandit Pancho Villa in Mexico. The ragtag group includes Napoleon's brother, Xenophon, and "America's eager export of losers, deadbeats, cutthroats, dilettantes, and murderers." Riding on horseback for months at a time, Napoleon finds himself and his men always just a few hours behind Villa, whose posse navigates the unforgiving terrain with ease. When a band of marauders descend upon the group, many of Napoleon's men are brutally slaughtered and Napoleon himself is left beaten and emotionally broken. After the attack, Napoleon proclaims to his brother that the person he was died out there. But this revelation doesn't last long, and soon Napoleon sets out on yet another date with destiny on the open plains with his followers. Reminiscent of Kent Haruf, Olmstead's brilliantly expressive, condensed tale of resilience and dusty determination flows with the kind of literary cadence few writers have mastered. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Olmstead's seventh novel (after the award-winning Coal Black Horse) employs a sparse, poetic style that is appropriate for the book's bleak setting and subject matter. Set in the Mexican desert in 1916, the novel follows Napoleon Childs, a veteran soldier in the American Expeditionary Force sent to capture Pancho Villa. The futility of this mission is compounded by unendurable conditions and the pointless violence of the war. The novel revolves around an expedition to collect livestock, the grisly battle that ensues, and Childs's improbable struggle for survival. His attempts to make sense of this experience and of his life spent in the army are portrayed powerfully and subtly, and his conclusion that he has died and been reborn presages the death of the 19th-century world with the arrival of World War I. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Douglas Southard

Kirkus Reviews
A veteran soldier battles for survival in another meditative, beautifully written novel from Olmstead (Coal Black Horse, 2007, etc.). The story begins in the summer of 1916, a few months after Pancho Villa's attack on Columbus, N.M. Officer Napoleon Childs has led a U.S. Army expedition deep into the Mexican desert in pursuit of this chimerical figure. The sun is punishing, the landscape is daunting and chasing the spookily elusive Villistas is beginning to show on Napoleon's men. Olmstead is wondrously attuned to the natural world and the realities of war; he uses sand, heat and distant mountains as a stage set, and his narrative unfolds with all the formal rigor of a Greek tragedy. The sense of pageantry is enhanced by the fact that while cavalrymen with rifles and bayonets pursue a bandoliered revolutionary in the Americas, a new kind of warfare is being invented in Europe. The futility of this particular mission, Napoleon is aware, mirrors the more general futility of a soldier's life, but he is sanguine about his vocation until his company loses a savage fight that never should have happened. Pulled from among the dead, he watches a fellow survivor tortured and killed by a band of rebels whose bloodthirsty female leader spares Napoleon so he can "tell the others what happened here." Now he must stay alive until his brother and their comrades can find him. The journey he takes recalls that of Coal Black Horse's protagonist, with the vital difference that Robey was young, while Napoleon is old. When Robey came home from the battlefields of the Civil War, he rejoined the deep, mysterious stream of life; he had hope and a future. For Napoleon, the return to life is a return to the pastand, finally, a return to war. The spectacle Olmstead presents is not a pretty one, and its consolations are only for the strong and clear-minded. But the beauty and power of his prose will keep most readers from looking away. Brutal, tender and magnificent.
From the Publisher
"Tautly written and laced with tension . . . Riveting visual effects . . . Olmstead offers a sort of 'thinking-reader's' western . . . Verbal precision and historical accuracy combine with a poetic distillation of a tragic event presented in a solidly captivating reading experience that haunts the mind long after the final page is turned.” —The Dallas Morning News

"Gleaming, spellbinding fiction . . . Terrifying and abruptly beautiful, the new novel gleams with a masculine intensity; it is hard to read and hard to put down . . . i did succumb, yet again, to the strong spell of Olmstead’s storytelling."—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565125926
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 5/26/2009
  • Pages: 207
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Olmstead

Robert Olmstead is the author of seven previous books. Coal Black Horse was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction and the Ohioana Award, and was a #1 Book Sense pick and a Border’s Discover pick. Far Bright Star was the winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant, and is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 5, 2012

    Pretty good read, all things considered

    Far Bright Star is a little like kissing your sister. Most of the book is an excellent "tell me a story", however, the end is a bit like a college freshmen literature lesson. With that being said, its still a pretty good read.

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  • Posted September 6, 2010

    Very good, even for non-western readers

    I picked this book up based on the description off the back of the book and I am very glad I did. I don't read very many stories of the old west, but I was drawn in and not the least disappointed. The characters are cavalrymen chasing Poncho Villa in Mexico who end up in a violent confrontation and then describes the aftermath through the eyes of one key character. I was pulled into the setting and felt I was with these men throughout their ordeal. Really amazing! Fantastic storytelling. Shockingly violent. It will get your attention and hold it because you will definitely want to know what happens next. Great characters. The language is a bit salty for my usual tastes (although no where near as bad as most modern day novelists!), but really an excellent read. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a great story, wrapped in excellent writing. I am looking forward to reading Olmstead's other books.

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  • Posted July 8, 2010

    Brilliant

    After reading through an author's catalog, you sometimes feel disheartened, that you will struggle to find another writer with the same feel and flavor. I felt that way with Cormac McCarthy. Thank God I discovered Robert Olmstead. It isn't imitation, it stands on it's own. Olmstead is the real deal.

    If you loved Blood Meridian...you WILL love this book. I say without reservation that Far Bright Star will definitely go on the short list of books that I will read over and over again.

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