Michael B. Oren's debut novel, REUNION, reemphasizes the
time-honored adage among soldiers that war is hell. Not only does
REUNION bring to life the early days of the "Battle of the Bulge"
against the Nazis in the Ardennes forest near the tail end of 1944,
it examines the aftermath of war via an ensemble of soldiers that
fought gallantly and not so gallantly for the 133rd Infantry
Battalion. Through the use of flashbacks, Oren paints a riveting
landscape that places the reader in the thick of the battle.
After receiving invitations to return to the Ardennes for a reunion
some 50 years after the battle, several veterans like Buddy Hill,
Francis Spagnola and Pieter Martinson make the trek back to Belgium
to commemorate the anniversary of the conflict. While the reunion
is somewhat a joyous occasion at first, it ultimately becomes for
many of the veterans a journey they won't soon forget.
Oren, author of the bestselling nonfiction book, SIX DAYS OF WAR:
June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, has an
incredible talent for conveying to the reader exactly what it was
like to be submerged deep in a foxhole, freezing to death ---
something many American soldiers experienced during the battle. He
also provides a measurable amount of mystery in the novel.
During the veterans' return to Saint Vith, or the "Sandpit" as they
like to call it, some unexpected guests arrive who throw the entire
entourage into a tizzy. Without giving away the plot, the veteran
who orchestrated the reunion never shows and is instead replaced by
his son, Richard. When asked of his father's whereabouts, Richard
calmly tells them that his father, Label Perlmutter, is dead.
Another guest arrives after receiving the invitation of her
deceased brother, Dean Featherstone, who was believed to be killed
in the battle. Or was he? Also along for the reunion is Army nurse
Alma Wheatty. Sorry, you'll have to read the book to find out what
happens to poor Alma.
For the most part, REUNION is a fantastic read, especially for
diehard World War II buffs, like this reviewer. Although the story
seems to drag along at times, Oren does yeoman's work in his
numerous depictions of combat. I guess all those World War II
stories Oren's father told him as a kid really paid off.
Reviewed by David Exum on January 23, 2011