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All parents keep secrets from their children. My father, it seemed, kept more than most.
The first clue came when Dad passed away in February 2003 at the age of eighty-eight, after sailing into a Bermuda Triangle of illness-heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema-all more or less attributable to sixty years of cigarettes. Characteristically, my mother refused to leave the burial details to my sister and me and met the funeral director with us. She chose a casket big enough to require a hood ornament, then pondered each word as the mortician read out the proposed death announcement.
"Was David a veteran?" he asked. The undertaker was the cleanest-looking man I'd ever seen, with lacquered nails, shaped eyebrows, and a face so smooth I suspected electrolysis.
"World War II," barked Sarah, who at the age of fifty-two still raced to answer before me.
The funeral director showed us the tiny black rendering of the Stars and Stripes that would appear in the paper beside Dad's name, but my mother was already agitating her thinning gray curls.
"No," she said. "No war. Not for this David Dubin." When she was upset, Mom's English tended to fail her. And my sister and I both knew enough to keep quiet when she was in those moods. The war, except for the bare details of how my father, an American officer, and my mother, an inmate in a German concentration camp, had fallen in love, virtually at first sight, had been an unpleasantness too great for discussion throughout our lives. But I had always assumed the silence was for her sake, not his.
By the end of the mourning visitation, Mom was ready to face sorting through Dad's belongings. Sarah announced she was too pressed to lend a hand and headed back to her accounting practice in Oakland, no doubt relishing the contrast with my unemployment. Mom assigned me to my father's closet on Monday morning, insisting that I consider taking much of his clothing. It was nearly all disastrously out of fashion, and only my mother could envision me, a longtime fatso, ever shrinking enough to squeeze into any of it. I selected a few ties to make her happy and began boxing the rest of his old shirts and suits for donation to the Haven, the Jewish relief agency my mother had helped found decades ago and which she almost single-handedly propelled for nearly twenty years as its Executive Director.
But I was unprepared for the emotion that overtook me. I knew my father as a remote, circumspect man, very orderly in almost everything, brilliant, studious, always civil. He preferred work to social engagements, although he had his own polite charm. Still, his great success came within the mighty fortress of the law. Elsewhere, he was less at ease. He let my mother hold sway at home, making the same weary joke for more than fifty years-he would never, he said, have enough skill as a lawyer to win an argument with Mom.
The Talmud says that a father should draw a son close with one hand and push him away with the other. Dad basically failed on both accounts. I felt a steady interest from him which I took for affection. Compared to many other dads, he was a champ, especially in a generation whose principal ideal of fathering was being a 'good provider.' But he was elusive at the core, almost as if he were wary of letting me know him too well. To the typical challenges I threw out as a kid, he generally responded by retreating, or turning me over to my mother. I have a perpetual memory of the times I was alone with him in the house as a child, infuriated by the silence. Did he know I was there? Or even goddamn care?
Now that Dad was gone, I was intensely aware of everything I'd never settled with him-in many cases, not even started on. Was he sorry I was not a lawyer like he was? What did he make of my daughters? Did he think the world was a good place or bad, and how could he explain the fact that the Trappers, for whom he maintained a resilient passion, had never won the World Series in his lifetime? Children and parents can't get it all sorted out. But it was painful to find that even in death he remained so enigmatic.
And so this business of touching the things my father touched, of smelling his Mennen talcum powder and Canoe aftershave, left me periodically swamped by feelings of absence and longing. Handling his personal effects was an intimacy I would never have dared if he were alive. I was in pain but deeply moved every minute and wept freely, burbling in the rear corner of the closet in hopes my mother wouldn't hear me. She herself was yet to shed a tear and undoubtedly thought that kind of iron stoicism was more appropriate to a man of fifty-six.
With the clothing packed, I began looking through the pillar of cardboard boxes I'd discovered in a dim corner. There was a remarkable collection of things there, many marked by a sentimentality I always thought Dad locked. He'd kept the schmaltzy valentines Sarah and I had made for him as grade-school art projects, and the Kindle County championship medal he'd won in high school in the backstroke. Dozens of packets of darkening Kodachromes reflected the life of his young family. In the bottom box, I found memorabilia of World War II, a sheaf of brittle papers, several red Nazi armbands taken, I imagined, as war trophies, and a curled stack of two-by-two snaps, good little black-and-white photos that must have been shot by someone else since my father was often the subject, looking thin and taciturn. Finally, I came upon a bundle of letters packed in an old candy tin to which a note was tied with a piece of green yarn dulled by time. It was written in a precise hand and dated May 14, 1945.
I am returning to your family the letters you have sent while you have been overseas. I suppose they may have some significance to you in the future. Inasmuch as you are determined to no longer be a part of my life, I have to accept that once time passes and my hurt diminishes, they will not mean anything to me. I'm sure your father has let you know that I brought your ring back to him last month.
For all of this, David, I can't make myself be angry at you for ending our engagement. When I saw your father, he said that you were now being court-martialed and actually face prison. I can hardly believe that about someone like you, but I would never have believed that you would desert me either. My father says men are known to go crazy during wartime. But I can't wait any longer for you to come back to your senses.
When I cry at night, David-and I won't pretend for your sake that I don't-one thing bothers me the most. I spent so many hours praying to God for Him to deliver you safely; I begged Him to allow you to live, and if He was especially kind, to let you come back whole. Now that the fighting there is over, I cannot believe that my prayers were answered and that I was too foolish to ask that when you returned, you would be coming home to me.
I wish you the best of luck in your present troubles. Grace
This letter knocked me flat. Court-martialed! The last thing I could imagine of my tirelessly proper father was being charged with a serious crime. And a heartbreaker as well. I had never heard a word about any of these events. But more even than surprise, across the arc of time, like light emitted by distant stars decades ago, I felt pierced by this woman's pain. Somehow her incomprehension alloyed itself with my own confusion and disappointment and frustrated love, and instantly inspired a ferocious curiosity to find out what had happened.
* * *
Dad's death had come while I was already gasping in one of life's waterfalls. Late the year before, after reaching fifty-five, I had retired early from the Kindle County Tribune, my sole employer as an adult. It was time. I think I was regarded as an excellent reporter-I had the prizes on the wall to prove it-but nobody pretended, me least of all, that I had the focus or the way with people to become an editor. By then, I'd been on the courthouse beat for close to two decades. Given the eternal nature of human failings, I felt like a TV critic assigned to watch nothing but reruns. After thirty-three years at the Trib, my pension, combined with a generous buyout, was close to my salary, and my collegiate cynicism about capitalism had somehow fed an uncanny knack in the stock market. With our modest tastes, Nona and I wouldn't have to worry about money. While I still had the energy, I wanted to indulge every journalist's fantasy: I was going to write a book.
It did not work out. For one thing, I lacked a subject. Who the hell really cared about the decades-old murder trial of the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney that I'd once thought was such a nifty topic? Instead, three times a day, I found myself staring across the table at Nona, my high-school sweetheart, where it swiftly became apparent that neither of us especially liked what we were seeing. I wish I could cite some melodrama like an affair or death threats to explain what had gone wrong. But the truth is that the handwriting had been on the wall so long, we'd just regarded it as part of the decorating. After thirty years, we had drifted into one of those marriages that never recovered its motive once our daughters were grown. Nine weeks before Dad's passing, Nona and I had separated. We had dinner once each week, where we discussed our business amiably, frustrated one another in the ways we always had, and exhibited no signs of longing or second thoughts. Our daughters were devastated, but I figured we both deserved some credit for having the guts to hope for better at this late date.
Nevertheless, I was already feeling battered before Dad died. By the time we buried him, I was half inclined to jump into the hole beside him. Sooner or later, I knew I'd pick myself up and go on. I'd been offered freelance gigs at two magazines, one local, one national. At five foot nine and 215 pounds, I am not exactly a catch, but the expectations of middle age are much kinder to men than women, and there were already signs that I'd find companionship, if and when I was ready.
For the moment, though, out of work and out of love, I was far more interested in taking stock. My life was like everybody else's. Some things had gone well, some hadn't. But right now I was focused on the failures, and they seemed to have started with my father.
And so that Monday, while my mother thought I was struggling into Dad's trousers, I remained in his closet and read through dozens of his wartime letters, most of them typed Army V-mails, which had been microfilmed overseas and printed out by the post office at home. I stopped only when Mom called from the kitchen, suggesting I take a break. I found her at the oval drop-leaf table, which still bore the marks of the thousands of family meals eaten there during the 1950s.
"Did you know Dad was engaged before he met you?" I asked from the doorway.
She revolved slowly. She had been drinking tea, sipping it through a sugar cube she clenched between her gapped front teeth, a custom still retained from the shtetl. The brown morsel that remained was set on the corner of her saucer.
"Who told you that?"
I described Grace's letter. Proprietary of everything, Mom demanded to see it at once. At the age of eighty, my mother remained a pretty woman, paled by age, but still with even features and skin that was notably unwithered. She was a shrimp-I always held her to blame that I had not ended up as tall as my father-but people seldom saw her that way because of the aggressive force of her intelligence, like someone greeting you in sword and armor. Now, Mom studied Grace Morton's letter with an intensity that seemed as if it could, at any instant, set the page aflame. Her expression, when she put it down, might have shown the faintest influence of a smile.
"Poor girl," she said.
"Did you know about her?"
"'Know'? I suppose. It was long over by the time I met your father, Stewart. This was wartime. Couples were separated for years. Girls met other fellows. Or vice versa. You've heard, no, of Dear John letters?"
"But what about the rest of this? A court-martial? Did you know Dad was court-martialed?"
"Stewart, I was in a concentration camp. I barely spoke English. There had been some legal problem at one point, I think. It was a misunderstanding."
"'Misunderstanding'? This says they wanted to send him to prison."
"Stewart, I met your father, I married your father, I came here with him in 1946. From this you can see that he did not go to prison."
"But why didn't he mention this to me? I covered every major criminal case in Kindle County for twenty years, Mom. I talked to him about half of those trials. Wouldn't you think at some point he'd have let on that he was once a criminal defendant himself?"
"I imagine he was embarrassed, Stewart. A father wants his son's admiration."
For some reason this response was more frustrating than anything yet. If my father was ever concerned about my opinion of him, it had eluded me. Pushed again toward tears, I sputtered out my enduring lament. He was such a goddamn crypt of a human being! How could Dad have lived and died without letting me really know him?
There was never a second in my life when I have doubted my mother's sympathies. I know she wished I'd grown up a bit more like my father, with a better damper on my emotions, but I could see her absorb my feelings in a mom's way, as if soaked up from the root. She emitted a freighted Old World sigh.
"Your father," she said, stopping to pick a speck of sugar off her tongue and to reconsider her words. Then, she granted the only acknowledgment she ever has of what I faced with him. "Stewart," she said, "your father sometimes had a difficult relationship with himself."
Excerpted from Ordinary HEROES by SCOTT TUROW Copyright © 2005 by Scott Turow. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
About This Guide
The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Scott Turow’s Ordinary Heroes. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel and the frontlines it brings to life.
Courts of law have set the stage in each of Scott Turow’s bestselling books. With Ordinary Heroes, Turow introduces an attorney who is operating in a new setting and period—on the killing fields of World War II’s European theater, under highly unusual circumstances. A JAG lawyer assigned to a case in which the enemy may prove to be his own government, with no law office and no research library, David Dubin is ordered to bring a fellow soldier to justice.
Ordinary Heroes is narrated by Kindle County journalist Stewart Dubinsky (whom readers may recognize from some of Turow’s previous novels) and by Stewart’s father. Stewart discovers an unexpected chapter of family lore after the death of his father, David Dubin, who Americanized the surname that Stewart later reclaimed. Through wartime letters, military archives, and eventually the notes for a memoir that Dubin wrote in prison, Stewart pieces together the secret history of his father’s clandestine actions, which led to his court-martial. Unfolding through the eyes of father and son, the truth becomes a tantalizing mystery for readers to solve.
Stewart had always believed that his parents met when Dubin rescued his future wife from the horrors of the Balingen concentration camp. Stewart’s research will lead him to a very different truth; he will discover that his father was there not as a liberator but to serve a warrant for the arrest of a wayward OSS officer named Robert Martin. Dubin had pursued Martin and his seductive cohort, Gita Lodz, through a series of daring escapades. Despite Martin’s spectacular bravery with the French Resistance, Dubin’s superiors think Martin is a Communist sympathizer.
Marked by high-caliber suspense and stirring dilemmas that capture the essence of love and war, Ordinary Heroes is a novel rich with topics for your reading group.
Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the effect of the V-mails on the book’s opening pages. What was it like to read David Dubin’s eyewitness account through the “artifacts” that comprise much of the rest of the book? Do father and son have different perceptions of life in Ordinary Heroes?
2. In chapter two, Dubin writes about his reasons for enlisting. What were his true motivations in going to war?
3. What are Dubin’s initial impressions of Staff Sergeant Bidwell? How does Biddy’s perception of racism compare to Dubin’s perception of it, both before and after Biddy makes his revelations about racial passing? What common ground do the two men share?
4. How did your impressions of Robert Martin shift throughout the novel? Does Brigadier General Teedle give an accurate description of him before Dubin meets him for the first time?
5. How would you characterize Stewart’s meetings with Bear Leach? How would you have handled Stewart’s requests if you had been in Justice Leach’s position?
6. What did you make of Corporal Bonner’s comments about Teedle’s sexuality in chapter eight? What would be the result of similar rumors in today’s U.S. military?
7. Is Gita’s allure purely based on sex appeal? How do her attitudes toward men differ from her mother’s?
8. In chapter ten, Gita reveals that her mother was killed for harboring Jews. How does Dubin respond to her after this scene? What does it take for him to finally trust her?
9. Chapter thirteen ends with Leach’s recollection that Dubin feared his children would learn the truth about him. To what extent is it necessary to keep secrets from our descendants? To what extent is this harmful? Do you agree with the Talmud’s aphorism, mentioned in the novel’s first chapter, that a father should draw his son close with one hand and push him away with the other?
10. How do the brutal December battles affect Dubin? How does he reconcile his roles as legal assistant and soldier after these scenes? What does he mean when he tells Grace he regrets being a “soldier in earnest,” in his letter to her at the end of chapter twenty-seven?
11. What did it take to transform Gita Lodz into Gilda/Gella Rosner? When did it become her dream to have an ordinary life?
12. Was it unpatriotic of Martin to try to keep not only the Soviets but also the United States from securing knowledge of Germany’s weapons of mass destruction? Were Martin’s actions rational? Would you have let him escape?
13. What is your understanding of the relationship between Gita and Martin? What does war teach Dubin about love? Would he have had much chance of a good marriage with Grace?
14. How do Stewart’s findings affect the dynamic of his family—his relationships with his sister and mother, and the memory of David Dubin?
15. Scott Turow writes that although Ordinary Heroes is completely a work of his imagination, the initial inspiration came from his father, who was a field surgeon in Europe during World War II. What legacies of war exist in your family? What stories of heroism and mystery are part of your family history?
16. What similarities and differences exist between Ordinary Heroes and Turow’s other novels? From Turow’s point of view, what are the makings of a hero?
Posted November 27, 2006
This is one of the finest contemporary novels I have ever read. Turow takes the reader through the final year of World War II in a creative and engaging way. He brings the war to life through the experiences of his richly painted characters. That would have been sufficient to make the book remarkable. But Turow also provides the reader with a touching and unique story interwoven with the dramatic events of the war in which a son honors his mother and father while at the same time respecting their wishes that the past remain in the past. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for readers who enjoy books that provide insight into the human heart.
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Posted January 28, 2006
I am amazed that I, a female, could not put down this book which was both a love story but also a war story, dealing with a soldier's story and battles. I've never been interested in war stories before but this book was amazing. I applaud Scott Turow on a really great read!
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Posted September 7, 2012
I have never purchased or borrowed from the library, for that matter, a book with so many typos. They are really annoying as you are reading along. My two stars aren't for Mr. Turow's efforts, they are for all the typos in this eEdition!
The book is quite compelling, which is my point. You are involved in the story, transported into WWII so craftily by Mr. Turow then are zapped with a typo.
Posted March 16, 2010
First Turow book I've read. He's a better writer than Patterson and other mass production authors, but there's still something missing, at least for me. An interesting enough story that I would have rated it 3.5 stars were that an option, but certainly not 5. Be forewarned -- there is some pretty graphic World War II material.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 7, 2009
This book is unique. The writing style, originality, character depiction, and story are amazing. Even Turow's wondrous vocabulary is worth noting as something rarely seen among contemporary authors. The wartime descriptions are so authentic and detailed you think they occurred last week. The plot, the love story, the character development are all just outstanding. The best Turow I have read.
My daughter is a Marine Captain. She loved it.
Posted September 18, 2007
I loved this book!! I'm a big fan of books about war and if you are to, you should definatly consider this one. I finished in two days. The story is well written and very entraining. If you are a fan of war novels, I shall recomend 'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'BrienWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2007
Posted February 4, 2007
I note many writers today selling by the pound vice by the story. Far too descriptive in character traits. I lost the story trying to get through character descriptions and sent it to the local library after 100 pages.
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Posted September 30, 2006
Scott Turow moves from the courtroom to war easily and gracefully. I loved this book and thought the depiction of war was probably very accurate. It was horrifying and understandably caring at the same time. A great way to spend your reading time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 25, 2006
There are a group of lawyers or former lawyers out there that are writing some pretty entertaining novels. Grisham and RN Patterson come quickly to mind, but Turow is just better. Ordinary Heros stands as one of this year's best novels of any genre.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 31, 2006
I buy Turow as soon as I can. This book was a very poor attempt to wright about World War 2. Rick Atkinson and Ambrose know how to do it. He doesn'tWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 7, 2006
I freely admit to crying like a baby. I have been a big fan of the DuSable fraternity of characters for years, but this one was much more than I expected from Turow. It didn't help that I saw the ending coming and I admit to being a little prejudiced in my opinions as a son of a Battle of the Bulge veteran. Just the same, it was a great read and I have been loaning my copy to others as fast as I can make all my friends read it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2006
...which I couldn't put down. The author indicates that the characters are all fictional except, of course, for the key WWII figures but it appears his father, a doctor, actually made a daring night parachute jump into Bastogne - similar to the one Dubin made in this novel. The protagonist, a JAG officer who laments the fact that he isn't involved in the actual conflict of this war. Then he is thrust brutally into the heart of the war with all the incumbent horrors. My feelings after reading this book are that there were no 'ordinary heros' during this war only extraordinary. I will keep this book and plan to reread it many times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 13, 2006
Right after I purchased the book I read a bad review. I was skeptical about the book holding my attention. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only are the character's engaging but Scott Turow does a wonderful job of keeping the first person narative in line with the times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 3, 2005
Posted November 4, 2005
Just an outstanding WWII epic penned by turow. His vivid descriptions and twists in turns in Stewart's father's life are mind boggling, jawdropping and amazing all at once. I loved this one. Pick it up!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 6, 2005
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from Scott Turow. I could not put it down. The story is about a son's search for understanding of his father's past. The backdrop of the father's story is World War II, and the story has a nice twist in the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2005
I enjoyed this book very much. Even though it is a work of fiction, I know much of it could be true.......the physical and emotional suffering by people in war. Mr. Turrow did a spectacular job describing some of the battle scenes....I felt like I was right there. I finished the book and went to the park. I saw a older man there who had a hat on with military symbols/flag, etc... I wanted to talk to him, ask about his experiences, etc.... I just thought about the book the rest of the day. It was well worth the time and money!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2005
This was an extremely good book, unlike any I have ever written. It takes the war evil of 'Mila-18', the war scenes of 'Once an Eagle', along with the legal side Scott Turow is known for, and winds it into one of the best war-romance-character study-legal thrillers I've read in a long time. You really feel like you are there. You learn so much about human nature. You become the characters. All the parts have purposes, even when not understood at the time. While not a quick read, it is definately a 'must read.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2005